When my daughters were born, I made a personal vow to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. But nothing prepared me for the challenges that come with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding should be natural and normal however prevailing myths and lack of support for the mother can present challenges such as;
Swollen and engorged breasts.
But, breastfeeding calls for commitment. And having a strong support network to hit the 6-month mark of exlusive breastfeeding and the 2 year goal of complementary feeding is a concerted effort. Today, I appreciate the health benefits of staying true to the gospel of exclusive breastfeeding. Colds and other childhood illnesses are well controlled and their growth and development is age-appropriate.
As the toothless mouth suckles, the benefits of breastfeeding go beyond having a healthy child. It also translates to a healthy mother, nation and the community. Whereas the innumerable benefits of breastfeeding are widely discussed, social capital is important to support a new mother to initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, where possible.
Did you know that all women are wired to breastfeed? The ability to breastfeed has nothing to do with the size of the breast. Here are the internal parts of the breast that work in unison to ensure the baby is well nourished.
The darker area of skin around the nipple is called the areola, The process of producing milk during breastfeeding is known as let-down. Let-down happens;
- When the baby suckles, this triggers tiny nerves in the nipple.
- These nerves cause hormones to be released into your bloodstream.
- One of these hormones (prolactin) acts on the milk-making tissues.
- The other hormone (oxytocin) causes the breast to push out or ‘let down’ the milk.
- Cells around the alveoli contract and squeeze out the milk, pushing it down the ducts towards the nipple
- The let-down reflex makes the milk in your breasts available to your baby.
One of the most basic principles of breastfeeding is that the baby must fully suckle from the breast with the entire areola inside the mouth. Compare these two pictures below; The first picture shows the correct attachment of the baby to the breast.
The effects of poor latching of the baby on the breast includes,
- Painful nipples
- Damaged nipples
- Baby unsatisfied and cries a lot
- Baby feeds frequently and for a long time
- Decreased milk production
- Baby fails to gain weight
Medical research has shown that first 1,000 days of life reduce your child’s chances of being obese. Additional health benefits include preventing more than 54% of diarrhea episodes and 72% of diarrhea admissions. A 2013 systematic review by Dr Bernardo L. Horta, and Dr Cesar G. Victora from the World Health Organisation, showed that breastfeeding may prevent the development of overweight/obesity, not only in early life but also on the long-term.
The perfect food
The World Health Organisation advices that colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy is the perfect food for the newborn. WHO also encourages breastfeeding to be initiated within the first hour after birth.Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, and appropriate complementary foods given to two years of age or beyond. And how often should a child feed? Breastfeeding should be “on demand”, as often as the child wants day and night.
What does exclusive breastfeeding mean?
Exclusive breastfeeding means that the infant receives only breast milk. No other liquids or solids are given – not even water – with the exception of oral rehydration solution, or drops/syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines. The health benefits of breastfeeding for the infant include;
- The ideal food for newborns and infants.
- Gives infants all the nutrients they need for healthy development.
- It is safe
- Contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, the two primary causes of child mortality worldwide.
- It is readily available and affordable
Brain development and breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding boots the baby’s brain development. Breastfeeding improves cognitive performance and has been associated with better educational achievement at age 5.
The health benefits for the mother include;
- It reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes, and postpartum depression.
- It is a method of birth control (98% protection in the first six months after birth).
Exclusively breastfeeding your child has long-term benefits too;
- Breastfeeding contributes to a lifetime of good health.
- Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese. They are also less likely to have type-II diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests.
There are also additional benefits to a family when a child is exclusively breastfed;
- Low health costs
- Less illnesses
- Family bonding
- Increased productivity associated with higher intelligence
- Poverty eradication due to reduced costs of infant formula and health care expenditure
- Food security is enhanced
Let us support breastfeedng.