BENEFITS/IMPORTANCE OF BREASTFEEDING
Did you know that ideal breastfeeding is so important that it could save the lives of 820,000 children within the ages of 0-5years each year? The importance of breast feeding is really not understood by many. This is evident from the high rise in demand for infant formula. Many mothers do not know the advantages of breastfeeding their children with breast milk.
Primarily,what is breastfeeding? Breastfeeding is a process by which human breast milk is fed to a child. Breast milk can be fed directly from the breast or expressed using the hand or a breast pump and then fed to the infant. According to World Health Organization, breastfeeding should commence immediately within the first hour of the successful delivery of a baby and should continue as much as the baby desires. Babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months- not given any other food including water except medications, vitamins and vaccines- and then complementary feeding until 2 years of age.
The importance of breastfeeding cannot be overemphasized. The benefits of breastfeeding encompasses the baby, the mother and the family. They are as follows:
1. Breast milk provides ideal nutrition for infants:
Natural breast milk is contained with everything the baby needs for the first 6 months of life, all in the right proportions. Its constitution changes depending on the baby’s changing needs, mostly during the first month of life. The first breast milk that comes out of the breasts a few days after a successful delivery is called colostrum.It is usually thick and yellowish. It is packed with beneficial nutrients and cannot be replaced by formula.
2. Breast milk contains important antibodies and reduces risk for diseases:
Breast milk is filled with antibodies; soldiers that help the baby fight against pathogenic microorganisms which is critical in those early months.These antibodies,including Immunoglobulin A , are contained in the colostrum. Immunoglobulin A prevents the baby from getting sick as it forms a protective barrier in the nose,ear, throat and digestive tract thereby reducing the child’s risk for many illnesses and diseases such as diarrhea,middle ear infections, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections,allergies,diabetes ,childhood leukemia and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Breastfeeding promotes healthy weight:
Breastfeeding fosters healthy weight gain and helps prevent childhood obesity due to the development of beneficial gut bacteria which helps with fat storage. Children who are breastfed have more leptin in their system.Leptin is an important hormone that regulates appetite and fat storage.
- Breastfeeding makes children smarter:
Studies have shown that there is a significant difference in the brain development of breastfed children and formula-fed children.Breastfeeding helps the child ace those tests as breastfed children have a higher IQ and have less developmental and behavioral problems while growing up.
5. Breastfeeding aids involution:
During pregnancy, the uterus increases in size almost filling the entire space of the abdomen. After childbirth,the uterus returns back to its normal pear size through the process of involution. Oxytocin also contributes to this process. High amounts of oxytocin is released by the body during labor and breastfeeding. This hastens the involution process as uterine contractions are increased.
6.Breastfeeding decreases mother’s risk for Post-partum Depression (PPD):
PPD is a type of depression that can develop shortly after childbirth. Studies have shown that mothers who breastfeed are at a lower risk of having it.
7. Breastfeeding protects the mother from diseases:
Women who breastfeed have a lower risk for several diseases such as: breast and ovarian cancers,diabetes,hypertension and heart diseases.
8. Breastfeeding serves as a form of contraceptive:
Continued breastfeeding delays ovulation and menstruation. Many women use this as a contraceptive and a method for child spacing.It has to be done exclusively to be effective!
9.It saves resources:
Breastfeeding is very cheap and readily available at each feed. It doesn’t require any preparations and cost absolutely no dime. It saves time and money for the family.
In conclusion, the benefits of breastfeeding are numerous. Health agencies often encourage exclusive breastfeeding for mother and child. Even though there are a lot of myths about breastfeeding, the advantages cannot be outweighed. Breast milk is always at the right temperature and ready to drink.Breast milk remains the best food for the infant and every infant has the right to good nutrition.
- Infant and Young Children Feeding- World Health Organization,WHO (9th June, 2021)
- Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, by American Academy of Pediatrics.
- The Short and Long Term Benefits of Breastfeeding ,by Megan Church (5th August, 2013)
- 11 Benefits of Breastfeeding for both Mom and Baby, by Adda Bjarnadottir, MS, RDN; medically reviewed by Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH- Healthline. (13th August,2020)