Importance and advantages of breastfeeding

Updated: Aug 07, 2019, 16:15 IST | mid-day online correspondent | Mumbai

Multiple studies have been conducted on animal breastfeeding patterns and the results have suggested humans may continue to breastfeed for up to 5-6 years

This picture has been used for representational purposes
This picture has been used for representational purposes

Breastfeeding is an integral part of human reproduction which has unequalled benefits to the infants as well as mothers. The ideal recommendation is to exclusively breastfeed infant for 6 months (only milk, not even water). Moreover, weaning should be started at 6 months and breastfeeding should be continued till minimum of 2 years. Multiple studies have been conducted on animal breastfeeding patterns and the results have suggested humans may continue to breastfeed for up to 5-6 years.

Also Read: Breastfeeding contributes to good gut bacteria formation in babies

Benefits of breastfeeding

Breast milk has enormous health benefits to new-borns. The initial part of milk called foremilk quenches the thirst and the hindmilk fulfils the hunger. It is hygienic, readily available, has the correct temperature and is free. The other benefits to the baby are, it passes on immunoglobulins to the baby, making baby immune to multiple diseases including tetanus, cholera and many other infections. Statistically, the breast-fed infants have lesser morbidity and mortality from childhood ailments like allergy, bronchial asthma, diarrhoea, childhood cancers, obesity and sudden infant death syndrome. It helps in cognitive and sensory development.

Finally, breast milk contains hormones, neuropeptides and growth factors that may affect growth, development, and self-regulation of food intake, contributing to the differences observed between breastfed and formula-fed infants. So, the breast-fed infants know when to stop when they are full. Furthermore, it has immense benefits to mothers also. It protects from future risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The lactational amenorrhoea (period free of menstrual cycles during lactational consultant) has contraceptive benefit; it shrinks the uterus and prevents post-delivery bleeding. It also helps mothers to get back to the normal pre-pregnancy state and lose weight. In the long run, breastfeeding protects mothers from lifestyle diseases like type 2
diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

It is the obstetrician's duty to impart this knowledge to their pregnant clients as this is the most receptive period of counselling. Also, the hospital should be baby-friendly. The staff should be supportive, and there should be a locational consultant available should the need arise. To enable mothers to establish and sustain exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, WHO and UNICEF recommend baby-friendly hospital initiative:

  • Initiation of breastfeeding within the first half-hour of life
  • Exclusive breastfeeding – that is the infant only receives breast milk without any additional food or drink, not even water
  • Breastfeeding on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night
  • No use of bottles, teats or pacifiers

While we learnt about all the benefits of breastfeeding, let us know the reasons behind difficulties faced by young mothers while practising breastfeeding. The environmental influences like privacy, stress at home, stress for the working women about a resumption of duty, obesity, various medical conditions like heart disease in mothers, certain infections like

HIV etc will have a negative impact on breastfeeding practices. Another adverse influence is by anatomical variations like a flat or inverted nipple, delayed lactogenesis, concerns about body image.

Also Read: How breastfeeding is linked to being a righty or lefty

Busting the myths regarding breastfeeding

Various myths persist about breastfeeding practices like small breasts won't produce enough milk, it won’t be enough for twin babies, mothers should not lie down and feed, mothers should avoid eating gas-forming food aren't all true.

Fact: No matter what, each and every mother can satisfy her baby's hunger pangs with her milk.

What breastfeeding moms need to know: Mothers should include certain natural galactagogues like fenugreek (methi), Shatavari, garlic, chickpeas etc, in their diet. They should be encouraged to take adequate dietary supplementation including additional 600Kcals per day. Hydration and rest are of utmost importance. Also, the attitude of the family including father and the support system has a major role in successful breastfeeding practice at home. Thus, Cow's milk is ideal for the calf; mother's milk is for baby!

- By Dr. Anagha Chhatrapati, Consultant Gynaecologist and Obstetrician, Global Hospital

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