Benefits of Breastfeeding
July 4, 2016
Breastfeeding is a warm, natural and essential process for the healthy growth and development of your baby. It not only has a host of health benefits but it also helps create a special bond between you and your precious little one. With the influx of formula in the market more and more mothers are opting not to breast feed due to various reasons such as:
i) Fear of sagging breast
ii) Inadequate breastfeeding knowledge
iii) Having to go back to work
iv) Constant advertisement of infant formulas and pacifiers
v) Nipple soreness or pain (read our article on Dealing with Sore and/or Cracked Nipples to learn how to treat and/or minimize this)
vi) Perception of producing inadequate milk (read our article on Boosting Breast Milk Production to learn how to deal with this)
According to research by Ashmika Motee and Rajesh Jewon: despite their being various types of formulas in the market designed to meet the nutritional and dietary needs of infants; there are some problems associated with them, such as the nutritional content either exceeding or not meeting an infant’s needs. In addition, they also mentioned reports of formula feed infants having occasional water soluble vitamin deficiencies.
In order to understand the importance of breastfeeding it is key that we understand what breast-milk is and what it does:
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) breast-milk is the natural first food for babies. It provides all the energy and nutrients needed during the first month of life and continues to provide up to half for the second half of the first year of life; and up to one third during the second year of life.
Breast-milk is categorised into two:
Fore-milk, which comes out first and is watery helping to quench your baby’s thirst.
Hind-milk, which follows after the foremilk and is richer containing all the essential fats, nutrients and energy needed for your baby to grow.
The benefits of Breast-milk include:
i) Breast-milk promotes sensory and cognitive development which helps promote both physical and emotional growth.
ii) Important fats found in breast-milk help build the brain, eyes and digestive system.
iii) Breast-milk has antibodies which helps protect your baby from infections and chronic diseases and helps promote quicker recovery from an illness. These antibodies may not necessarily be found in other milk products such as cow milk. Mixed breastfeeding, for example provision of water can increase the chances of a baby getting an infection.
iv) Breast-milk helps reduce the chances of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and helps reduce the chances of childhood death caused by catching common illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia.
v) Breast-milk can also be easily digested and efficiently used by the baby’s body reducing the chances of colic. It also helps protect the baby form chronic tummy problems.
vi) Breast-milk also offers some protection against allergies.
vii) Breast-milk has a protein which helps the baby’s body use the iron stored over from pregnancy.
viii) Breast-milk is economical since it is FREE.
While breast-milk itself does have its advantages, the act of breastfeeding also helps calm your baby making them feel safe and secure. “My husband once told me that I am lucky since I can breastfeed my little girl whenever she gets fussy or hurts herself. It’s like my own little secret weapon. And he was very right” shared a Mama Mzazi Mom.
Contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding does not just benefit the baby, but the mother as well. For mothers, breastfeeding:
i) Reduced the risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
ii) Helps space out children (though this is not to mean that family planning should be ignored).
iii) Increases family resources since it is an economical way of feeding a baby.
iv) Helps reduce stress levels and chances of depression due to the release of a hormone called oxytocin which promotes relaxation. Oxytocin also promotes the contraction of the uterus reducing the level of postpartum bleeding.
v) Is also believed to help prevent obesity with some women claiming to have lost weight due to breastfeeding.
While breastfeeding is a natural process it is not as easy as one may think and most mothers are advised to get assistance from their attending nurse or doctor early in advance (preferably while still in hospital) on how best to go about it. In addition, it is important to note, that to establish and maintain exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months WHO and UNICEF recommend:
i) Initiation of breastfeeding within the 1st hours of life
ii) Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months
iii) Breastfeeding on demand
iv) No use of teats or pacifiers
Never the less, we do understand that there are situations which will require a mother not to breastfeed, for example if she is on medication or using abusive drugs. This advice should come from a certified medical practitioner and you should talk over all your options with your doctor at length. However, if you do not fall into this category then WHO urges mothers to exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months and complementary feed (Read our article on ‘Successful Complementary Feeding’) with mixed breastfeeding for the next 18 months or more of their baby’s life. Given the above benefits, I believe that it is worth it.
How long did you breastfeed your child and why? Let us know by leaving a comment below.