Benefits of Exclusive Breastfeeding
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, followed by breastfeeding along with complementary foods for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding can be defined as a practice whereby the infants receive only breast milk without mixing it with water, other liquids, tea, herbal preparations or food in the first six months of life, with the exception of vitamins, mineral supplements or medicines. This act of exclusive breastfeeding should be initiated within one hour of the baby being born.
For infants to survive, grow and develop properly they require the right proportion of nutrients. Breast milk is rich in nutrients and anti-bodies and contains the right quantities of fat, sugar, water and protein. These nutrients are major pre-requisites to the health and survival of the baby. When a child is exclusively breast fed, their immune system is strengthened, enabling it to life-threatening illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhoea amongst other infections. The World Health Organization estimates that around 220,000 children could be saved every year with exclusive breastfeeding. It recommends that colostrum, the yellowish sticky breast milk that is produced at the end of pregnancy as the ideal food for newborns; to be given within the first hour of birth, a process referred to as early initiation. Infants breast fed within the first hour of birth are three times more likely to survive than those who have their first breast milk after a day.
Moreover, studies have shown that many mothers find it difficult to meet personal goals and to adhere to the expert recommendations for continued and exclusive breastfeeding despite increased rate of initiation. Some of the major factors that affect exclusivity and duration of breastfeeding include breast problems such as sore nipples or mother’s perceptions of producing inadequate milk and societal barriers such as employment, length of maternity leave, inadequate breastfeeding knowledge, lack of familial and societal support and lack of guidance and encouragement from health care professionals. Another factor that leads to early cessation of breastfeeding is the advertisement of infant formulas which encourages mothers to opt for the use of pacifiers and bottle feeding. Additionally, many mothers opt for breast milk substitutes because they need to resume work while others claim that they produce insufficient milk. To date, there are various types of infant formulas available on the market, and which are designed to meet the nutritional needs of infants with a variety of dietary needs. However, there are some problems associated with infant formulas such as the nutritional content either does not meet or exceeds the infant’s needs. For instance, it was reported that some infants who were fed on formula milk have had occasional water soluble vitamins deficiencies. Another problem associated with bottle feeding involves high risk of exposing the child to pathogens owing to unhygienic practices during handling and preparation of infant formula.
Importance of Exclusive Breastfeeding
The importance of exclusive breastfeeding can never be overemphasized. Read on to further understand the importance of Exclusive Breastfeeding for both mother and child.
- Exclusive breastfeeding is one of the best ways to minimise the chances of a baby getting diarrhoea, allergies, pneumonia and suffering from malnutrition, the addition of any other food will considerably increase the risks of the same.
- Exclusive breastfeeding is known to considerably decrease infant mortality on account of common childhood illnesses.
- Exclusive breastfeeding delays fertility assisting appropriate time intervals between pregnancies for mothers.
- Exclusively breastfeeding mothers are less prone to the cancer of the breasts and ovaries.
- Exclusive breastfeeding is also economical as it eliminates the need to purchase supplements and expensive formulas and equipment.
- Colostrum in breast milk cleans the stomach and promotes a healthy gut, eliminating the need for medicines.
- Exclusive breastfeeding helps the new mother to lose weight after delivery.
- Mothers who breastfeed exclusively are less likely to experience postpartum depression.
- The more a baby suckles, the more milk will be made in the breasts, this natural mechanism helps make exclusive breastfeeding a viable choice.
- Exclusive breastfeeding is also possible for working mothers via expressed breast milk. Expressed breast milk remains good for up to ten hours at room temperature and approximately three days in the fridge.
On a final note, exclusive breastfeeding is perhaps the healthiest choice a mother can make for her newborn baby. Babies that are exclusively breastfed are generally healthier. Exclusive breastfeeding is the strongest measure that can be taken to avoid infections and diseases in babies. Furthermore, exclusive breastfeeding has numerous benefits for the mother as well.