We recently celebrated World Breastfeeding Week, which linked up very appropriately with Women’s Day on 9 August.
Undoubtedly one of the most important roles of mothers is breastfeeding, which makes the constant battle between the Department of Health (DoH) and UNICEF on the one hand, and the manufacturers of infant formulas on the other, a matter of some concern.
I was therefore alarmed by the headline “Baby Formula Ad Row” on the front page of Pretoria News (11 August, 2014). According to the article, a UNICEF survey indicates that “violations in South Africa [against legislation passed in 2012 that prohibits marketing of baby formula] are rife”.
Read: US hospitals pressured to end free baby formula
Chantell Witten, UNICEF nutrition specialist, states that according to survey results, some health practitioners are making recommendations about the use of formulas instead of encouraging breastfeeding to mothers. To add to that, certain manufacturers and pharmacy chains are also starting to advertise infant formula products in their promotional material.
Breastfeeding Week is celebrated throughout the world because “Breast is Best”.
Read: Why breast is best
Let’s have a look at why breastfeeding your baby is the single most valuable gift you can give your child for the rest of his or her life.
a) Benefits for baby
- Breastfeeding provides the best and most balanced nutrition for the newborn.
- Mother’s milk is designed for baby humans and contains all the nutrients your child needs to thrive and grow. In addition to the ideal combination of nutrients, mother’s milk also transmits antibodies and immunity-enhancing factors to your baby (see below).
- Breastfeeding reduces the incidence and severity of infectious diseases.
- The following infections are reduced in babies receiving exclusive breastfeeding: bacterial meningitis; diarrhoea of infancy, which is still one of the prime causes of death among infants; ear infections; infections of the respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs and chest), including pneumonia, colds and croup; bladder and kidney infections; complications of common infant infectious diseases such as measles.
- Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of a wide variety of other diseases in infancy and later life including asthma; food allergies; Hodgkin disease (a type of cancer of the lymph nodes that originates in the white blood cells); raised blood cholesterol levels; leukaemia (a type of cancer characterised by abnormally high levels of white blood cells); lymphoma (different types of cancer that originate in the white blood cells); overweight and obesity; sudden infant death syndrome, as well as type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
- Breastfeeding improves the following important aspects of childhood: It makes the baby less sensitive to pain (e.g. injections, taking blood samples); it improves the development of the brain so that breastfed children do better in intelligence tests when they are older; and most significantly, it also helps the mother and her child to bond. (A great many future psychological problems can be eliminated if there is a warm, loving bond between a mother and her child.)
Read: Breast is best for baby's pain
b) Benefits for Mothers
It is, however, not only the baby that benefits from breastfeeding, but also the mother. Breastfeeding has the following benefits for Moms:
- Promotes lighter menstruation and less blood loss during menstruation which helps to conserve iron stores.
- Can reduce bleeding after giving birth.
- Improves weight loss after giving birth and a faster recovery of pre-pregnancy weight.
- Reduces the risk of the so-called hormonal cancers of the breast and ovary.
- Helps to space children. (Instead of having a baby every year which drains the mother’s strength and nutritional reserves, breastfeeding can help mothers to space their babies more advantageously. However it is vital to remember that breastfeeding does not make you infertile and even breastfeeding women should use a form of contraception if they do not want to fall pregnant immediately after having a baby.)
- Helps the uterus to rapidly return to normal after the birth process.
- Has a long-term positive effect on preventing hip fracture and osteoporosis in later life (i.e. after the menopause).
(UNICEF, 2014; Mahan et al, 2012)
Read: Breastfeeding good for moms too
Don't waste any time
The brochure published by UNICEF on their website explains the importance of starting to breastfeed your baby within the first hour of the baby’s life. Research has found that if mothers let their newborns latch on to their breasts within the first hour of life, 22% of babies who would die in their first month of life could be saved.
This translates to saving the lives of one million children a year globally. UNICEF warns that “with each day that passes without initiating breastfeeding, the likelihood of death increases”.
Read: Infant and child mortality
This is a sobering thought which many women are probably not aware of and many health workers do not actively encourage.
What can you do?
Tell the mothers of South Africa that they should breastfeed their babies, and let’s tell all women and healthcare workers that they should promote breastfeeding within the first hour of the baby’s life.
Dads can also play an active role, because research indicates that when fathers strongly support their partners to breastfeed, 98% of the babies are breastfed. However, when dads don’t give their support or are indifferent, only 26% of infants receive breast milk. Dads, therefore, need to be aware of what a big difference they can make to the healthy development of their children. (UNICEF, 2014)
Read: Breastfeeding: a dad's view
Keep in mind that you may save the life of the child and the mother by encouraging something that mothers have done for centuries before we became "modern" and lost touch with our most basic instincts.
Faber T (2014). Baby Formula Ad Row. Pretoria News, Page 1. Published on 11 August 2014; Mahan KL et al. (2012). Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process. 13th Ed., Elsevier, USA; Unicef (2014). Fact sheet: World Breastfeeding Week
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