Every year globally, breastfeeding week is commemorate from August 1-7. This is a one week long event set aside for breastfeeding mothers and their babies to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.
As countries around the world celebrated World Breastfeeding Week, ending yesterday, the United Nation International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) called on governments and all employers to adopt family-friendly policies that support breastfeeding.
With theme, “Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding,” this year’s world breastfeeding week’s message encourages family-friendly policies, such as paid parental vacation to enable breastfeeding as well as assist parents nurture and bond with their children in early life. The evidence is clear that during early childhood, the optimal nutrition provided by breastfeeding, along with nurturing care and stimulation, can strengthen children’s brain development with impacts that endure over a lifetime.
The WHO’s message states that family-friendly policies were particularly important for working parents. Mothers need time off from work to recover from birth and get breastfeeding off to a successful start. When a breastfeeding mother returns to work, her ability to continue breastfeeding depends on having access to breastfeeding breaks; a safe, private, and hygienic space for expressing and storing breast milk; and affordable childcare at or near her workplace.
The world body said: “Time off work is also important for fathers: Paid paternity leave allows fathers to bond with their babies and promotes gender-equality, including through the sharing of childrearing and household responsibilities.
“Returning to work too soon is a barrier to the early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months and continued breastfeeding until age 2 or longer practices that can boost children’s immune systems, shield them from disease, and provide protection from non-communicable diseases later in life. Breastfeeding also protects maternal health women who breastfeed reduce their risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
“In addition to their impact on children, family-friendly policies support women’s participation in the workforce, improve their physical and mental health, and enhance family well-being. They also advance business objectives and strengthen the economy. Such policies have been shown to increase employee retention, improve job satisfaction, and result in fewer absences. In short, family-friendly policies are good for families, babies and business.”
As the world marked world breastfeeding week, WHO and UNICEF called on governments and all employers to adopt family-friendly policies including paid maternity leave for a minimum of 18 weeks, and preferably, for a period of six months as well as paid paternity leave.
According to WHO, “in line with the policy actions advocated by the WHO-UNICEF-led global breastfeeding, we also call for greater investments in comprehensive breastfeeding programmes, improved breastfeeding counselling and support for women in health facilities and the community, and an end to the promotion of breast-milk substitutes to enable parents to make informed decisions on the best way to feed their infants.
“Together, with the support of governments, employers and communities, we have the power to enable breastfeeding and support families in fostering a nurturing environment where all children thrive.”
Breastfeeding is important for both for the mother and child. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), breastfeeding is recommended for first six months of the baby, exclusively. Breast milk should not be replaced by formula milk, juice or water during the first six months of newborn. After six months, breastfeeding should be continued along with other nourishing foods for the baby as it provides ideal nutrition to infants. It has the perfect blend of fat, vitamins, proteins and everything else that your baby needs for a healthy growth.
Exclusive breastfeeding of babies, which means no other food or drink including even water, except breast milk, for the first six months helps them grow, prevent under-nutrition, promotes brain development, and reduce the risk that children will become overweight. It is also a newborn’s first vaccine, providing vital antibodies.
A Consultant Pediatrician, Dr. Gorika Bansal, expressed worry that despite benefits of breastfeeding, many children are missing out.
According to him, “globally, only about two out of five of all newborns are put to the breast within an hour of birth and only 40 per cent of children less than six months of age are exclusively breastfed. There are many reasons millions of women are unable to start and continue breastfeeding successfully.
“For example, many women give birth without access to the quality care, counselling and support they need from health workers. We must find new ways and new political will to help these children, wherever they live, benefit from the lifesaving benefits of breastfeeding.”
Bansal said as the world mark breastfeeding week, there should be recommitment to doing more to help every child realize the lifesaving benefits of breastfeeding.
Advising mothers, he said: “As a new mother, breastfeeding is an important aspect when it comes to your infant. Nowadays, many new mothers have started favouring infant formula over breastfeeding, and advocating for it. But, what a lot of us don’t realise is that there are a number of potential health risks associated with not breastfeeding, and favouring infant formula over it. Moreover, it is important to note that these health risks arise not only for child, but also the mother.”
A 2018 scorecard released by the Global Breastfeeding Collective, a partnership of more than 20 international agencies and non-governmental organisations co-led by UNICEF and WHO, calls for more action and investment in a number of areas. These recommendations include increased funding for comprehensive breastfeeding programmes, better monitoring systems to track breastfeeding trends, strengthened maternity and paternity leave provisions that encourage breastfeeding and improved breastfeeding counselling and support in health facilities.
Benefits of breastfeeding to the baby
Breast milk is known to contain antibodies that help the baby fight against virus and bacteria. It reduces rates of asthma and allergies in newborns. Babies who are fed breast milk exclusively for their first six months are lesser prone to diarrhea, ear infections and respiratory illness.
A pediatricians said “breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood compared to a formula-fed baby. Babies fed with breast milk thus grow up to be more intelligent. What’s more, is of course the physical closeness, skin-to-skin contact and eye contact while breastfeeding, which together help baby bond with the mother and feel secure.”
Also breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow, considering the high rise of metabolic disorders, such as obesity.
Not being breastfed is associated with an increased risk of infections and chronic illnesses, like pneumonia and gastroenteritis. The child does not get the nutrients required to build its resistance against the unhygienic stimuli.
An upset stomach and gut are also related to inadequate breastfeeding. If not treated they could lead to diarrhea. Many infants lose their lives due to this illness. Also children not breastfed are at risk of obesity and some childhood cancers as well. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is also a possible consequence.
There is also an elevated risk of type 1 and 2 diabetes and leukemia. Also among premature infants, not receiving breast milk are at increased risk of necrotising enterocolitis (NEC).
As infant formula is produced in factories and prepared at home, there is a chance of contamination. That contamination can cause permanent damage to your child. Furthermore, at home, parents could mix the formula incorrectly or may use unsafe water.
Benefits of breastfeeding to the mother
Breastfeeding helps mothers burn extra calories, lose pregnancy weight faster.
It releases the hormone, oxytocin, which helps the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth.
Breastfeeding also lowers a woman’s risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It helps in forming a beautiful bond between mother and her baby. This is the reason w\ WHO recommends that mother’s breast milk should be continued exclusively until six months of age.
Not breastfeeding poses health risks to the mother as well. There is an increased risk of heavy bleeding after birth. Moreover, the mother may also be prone to developing premenopausal breast and/or ovarian cancers. It also puts the mother at risk of developing osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes.
A recent study has pointed out that women who do not breastfeed have a much higher risk of developing these diseases mentioned above than those who do breastfeed regularly.