A few weeks ago my beautiful niece came to this world and wanting the best for her I have advised my sister to breastfeed her exclusively. What is it that makes breastfeeding very crucial? Why is it a vital act?
Breast milk is the optimal source of energy and nutrients for infants in the first 6 months of their lives. Breast milk will not only provide the infant with all the proteins, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water, but also with bioactive factors needed to build the infant’s immune system and protect against infections. Other factors are also transferred to the infant to help in the digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Breast milk comes into different phases. The first 2 to 3 days after delivery, the colostrum, aka liquid gold, often yellowish in color, is produced in small amounts. This special milk is all what the infant needs at this time to boost the immune system against the first exposure to the micro-organisms of this world and to prepare the lining of the gut to absorb nutrients in the mature milk. It is also a rich source of fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, and K). The mature milk is what comes after the colostrum and it is produced in large amounts.
According to the World Health Organization, early initiation of breastfeeding, within one hour of birth of the infant, protects the baby from catching infection. In addition, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is recommended. In other words, the infant should receive breast milk only without any additional food or drink, not even water, in order to achieve optimal growth, development, and health.
Babies can be breasted up to 2 years or more while receiving complementary food after 6 months of age.
Breastfeeding can provide many benefits to both the mother and to the baby. First and foremost, breastfeeding promotes mother-child bonding. It is also economic and convenient as the breast milk doesn’t need to be packed, stored, and heated.
For infants, breast milk enhances sensory and cognitive development, protects against infectious and chronic diseases, reduces infant mortality, and helps for a quicker recovery during illness in addition to the optimal growth and development mentioned above. Breastfeeding can also lower risks of gastro-intestinal infections, respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, ear infections, allergic diseases, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, sudden infant death syndrome, and childhood leukemia. In addition, adults who were breastfed as infants are less likely to become overweight or obese and to have cardiovascular diseases.
Advantages offered to the mother include reducing the risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes mellitus, postpartum depression, hip fractures, and osteoporosis, helping to take off the weight gained during pregnancy, helping the uterus to shrink to its original size, and delaying the return of menstrual periods so it can help in spacing children and family planning.
In conclusion, exclusive breastfeeding is the best thing a mother can offer to her child to help establish a healthy lifestyle early in life. You can also contribute in raising healthier generations by sharing this information with your sisters, sisters-in-law, cousins, and friends.. practically with anyone as the father has also an important role in breastfeeding as a main support pillar.
References are available upon request.