Breast is best, for mother and baby

Today’s society includes women who are more focused on career advancement than starting a family. Not only is bearing children delayed, but also the number of desired children has fallen. With having kids being “out of fashion” more mothers are also increasingly developing an unenthusiastic attitude towards breastfeeding. Is breastfeeding of a bygone era? No, it should not be.

shutterstock_116190475Medically speaking, the ideal is to exclusively breastfeed your baby for six months and continue for up to two years with complementary feeds. Buthow many of today’s mothers are able to abide by this practice? The Global Strategy of Infant and Young Feeding, an initiative by the World Health Organisation and Unicef,  also advocates breastfeeding for six months, followed by timely, adequate, safe and appropriate complementary feeding, while continuing breastfeeding for two years and beyond.

Impossible? We think not. Breastfeeding is important for the short- and long-term health of children and women. Did you know that both the action of breastfeeding and the composition of the breast milk are important?

The action of breastfeeding helps the child’s jaw to develop as well as muscles such as the tongue and muscles of the Eustachian tube. This development reduces the incidence of ear infections, assists with clear speech, protects against dental caries and reduces the risk of orthodontic problems.

Breastfeeding also provides warmth, closeness and contact, which can help the physical and emotional development of the child. Mothers who breastfeed are less likely to abandon or abuse their babies, and children who are breastfed are more likely to grow up to be well adjusted adults.

Breast milk itself is important for children for so many reasons. Human milk provides ideal nutrition to meet the infant’s needs for growth and development. It protects against many infections and reduces the risk of allergies and conditions such as juvenile-onset diabetes. And a mother’s own milk is best suited to the individual child and to meet the individual baby’s changing needs.

However, even with these amazing benefits many women are increasingly abandoning breastfeeding. With all the different artificial baby milk substitutes around, many mothers are opting for these instead of the age-old way of mother-to-child breastfeeding. 

A new study in New York found that in their children’s first two months of life, most new mothers have concerns about breastfeeding that make them consider giving up and switching to formula. Of the mothers surveyed when their babies were three days old, many were worried about breastfeeding, for different reasons, including that they weren’t making enough milk or that the infant wasn’t latching on well.

“We were surprised by the large number of concerns mothers had, and we were very concerned by how particular concerns were strongly related to giving up with breastfeeding – such as worries about babies not getting enough nutrition,” said Laurie A. Nommsen-Rivers, the study’s senior author, from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

This was the case for Shuvai Chimhowa, a 30-year-old accountant from Harare (Zimbabwe) who said that breastfeeding at first was very difficult because her new baby boy was not attaching well to her nipple. “I stayed two extra days in the postnatal ward because my baby would not suck well, my nipples were too flat.”

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Other mothers said that their baby’s demands for milk were becoming too high long before six months and that forced them to start complementary feeds. “When I went back to work, whatever milk I expressed was never enough for my baby,” 32-year-old Wanjiku Mwangi, a medical doctor from Nairobi, told me. “Even though I knew the benefits of breast milk I began formula feeds for the baby and she soon preferred the bottle. By the fourth month, she was refusing the breast!”

After facing these, and many other challenges, mothers opt to use replacement-feeding options, including infant formula.

These artificial commercial formulas have been modified and micro-nutrients have been added artificially and it is important to remember that although the proportions of nutrients in commercial formula can be altered, their quality can never be the same, or as natural as breast milk. In addition, the immune and growth factors present in breast milk are not present in formula milk, and even more importantly, these cannot be added to formula milk artificially.


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