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Benefits of breastfeeding

Dr Boima
HEALTH ISSUES

The week starting today marks the world breastfeeding week (1-7 Aug). There have been an increase in positive awareness and celebration of breastfeeding for the past twenty-two years but the aim of this annual campaign is also to increase social acceptance of the act and to educate people.

There are undisputedly enormous benefits of breastfeeding to both the lactating mother and the baby. Whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal or home setting, it is necessary that she is empowered in claiming and practicing her and her baby’s right to breastfeed.

In particular, employers should be supportive enough to allow lactating mothers their well-deserved feeding breaks because in the long run a healthy baby and a healthy mother will benefit the employer too. The following reasons are why breastfeeding is essential for both the baby and the mother.

BABY BENEFITS

Mother-baby bonding – research has shown that even though there may already be a special attachment between the mother and her baby immediately after birth, breastfeeding is the vital tool in creating or augmenting that bond. It promotes the Kangaroo care (holding of a baby involving skin-to-skin contact) which uses the parent’s stable body temperature to help regulate the baby’s temperature. Newborns especially pre-terms and underweight babies are prone to hypothermia (low body temperature) so this method has been proved to help them maintain their physiological warmth more smoothly rather than with the use of incubators.

Antibodies – breast milk compared to formula milk provides a baby with all the antibodies that she or he needs to fight current and future illnesses. Numerous studies from around the world have shown that stomach viruses, lower respiratory illnesses, ear infections, meningitis, (and even death) occur less often in breastfed babies and are less severe when they do happen.

Exclusive breastfeeding (meaning no solid food, formula, or water) for at least six months offers the most protection. Diseases that can occur in childhood or later in life like lymphoma, breast cancer, allergies or diabetes have always been reported to be very low in people that were breastfed. Stopping breastfeeding too early can reverse this beneficial effect.

Nutrients – breast milk contains all the vitamins and nutrients a baby needs in the first six months of life. In particular, breast milk contains long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are essential for the baby’s brain development. Exclusive breastfeeding can improve the baby’s cognitive development; so technically, breastfeeding may make your baby more intelligent.

Free and readily available – the most practical benefits of breastfeeding are that it does not cost a thing and it does not need preparation. And the milk is always at the right temperature, so as soon as the baby needs a feed, it's ready!

Cleanliness – the major challenge with formula feeding is the associated high risk of infections like gastroenteritis.it needs to be prepared strictly under hygienic environment, be stored properly and disposed of accordingly. But with breast milk, one has got nothing to prepare, wash or sterilize, and can worry less about infections.

MOTHER BENEFITS

Contraception – lactation suppresses ovulation. So if the mother is exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, she would be free from menstruating for a while. This method has been found to provide up to 98% of contraceptive benefits for those first six months.

Weight loss – breastfeeding may help the mother to lose weight and keep it off even after weaning. The body requires energy (from food) to make breast milk, so if the mother’s caloric intake doesn’t increase during this period, it means the body fat stores will be broken down to generate such extra energy.

Reduces risk of cancer – Numerous studies have found that the longer women breastfeed, the more they're protected against breast and ovarian cancer. The benefit has been implicated in the structural changes in breast tissue that occurs during breastfeeding and the fact that lactation suppresses the amount of estrogen the body produces (high estrogen levels promote breast and ovarian cancers).

Reduces post-partum depression – some meta-analysis study concluded that women who didn't breastfeed or who stopped breastfeeding early on had a higher risk of developing post-partum depression. Many women in the studies reviewed reported that breastfeeding offers them a feeling of relaxation.

That is because nursing triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin have been found to promote nurturing and relaxation. Also women would feel a real sense of achievement to see their babies growing and developing due to something that is produced by them.

NB: – The breakthrough in the history of HIV/AIDS management is that nowadays HIV positive mothers can breastfeed with the use of triple ARV prophylaxis (the virus needs to be fully suppressed for this to be safe).

For comments or questions email agboima@yahoo.com

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