Over the past decades, evidence for the health advantages of breastfeeding and recommendations for practice have continued to increase! And many campaigns have been conducted! There is even an international week specific for breastfeeding! But why so?
Breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. While breastfeeding is a natural act, it also has to be learned. Many women encounter difficulties at the beginning. Mothers and other caregivers require active support for establishing and sustaining appropriate breastfeeding practices. And this support is from the trained healthcare professionals but also from the community at large.
Key Facts about Breast Milk and Breastfeeding
- Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants. It gives infants all the nutrients they need for healthy development.
- Breast milk contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, the two primary causes of child mortality worldwide.
- 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 less likely to have type-II diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests.
- Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control (98% protection in the first six months after birth). It reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes, and postpartum depression.
- An HIV-infected mother can pass the infection to her infant during pregnancy, delivery and through breastfeeding. However, antiretroviral (ARV) drugs given to either the mother or HIV-exposed infant reduces the risk of transmission. Together, breastfeeding and ARVs have the potential to significantly improve infants’ chances of surviving while remaining HIV uninfected.
How and when to Breastfeed
The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that:
- Mothers should initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth, also known as the golden hour. This moment is important to strengthen the bond between mother and child and to promote exclusive breastfeeding and for baby to breastfeed for longer durations.
- Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life i.e. the infant only receives breast milk without any additional food or drink.
- Infants should be breastfed on demand to achieve optimal growth, development and health.
- Breastfeeding should continue for up to two years or beyond.
- After six months, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues.
How Can Employers Support Breastfeeding?
- Creating safe spaces for women to breastfeed or express breast milk when needed.
- Create and implement policies that root for mothers to get the time they need for their infant while getting support from their partners without worries about their family income during this time e.g. paid parental leave and job security during this time.
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