Ultimate magazine theme for WordPress.

Breastfeeding: An Investment in Health

Breastfeeding is a key to saving newborn lives and can reduce infant mortality rates and protect babies from deadly diseases

By Dr. Ubaida Shahid

Promoting breastfeeding is essential for ensuring a healthy life and optimal development for both the child and the mother. Breast milk is nature’s perfect food for infants, providing a unique blend of nutrients that cannot be replicated by any formula. It is rich in antibodies, enzymes, and other bioactive components that boost the baby’s immune system, protecting them from various infections and illnesses. Breastfeeding: An Investment in Health

Breastfeeding is the best way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. [WHO] Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for a newborn. It is safe and hygienic, and it contains antibodies that help prevent many common pediatric diseases. Breastmilk provides all of the energy and nutrients that the infant needs during the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs throughout the second half of the first year, as well as up to one-third of a child’s nutritional needs during the second year of life. Breastfed children perform better on IQ tests than non-breastfed children, are less likely to be overweight or obese, and are less likely to develop diabetes later in life. Breastfeeding women also have a lower risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

Breastfeeding within an hour of birth could prevent 20% of newborn deaths. Babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of age are 11 times less likely to die from diarrhoea and 15 times less likely to die from pneumonia, which are two leading causes of death in children under-five years of age. Much remains to be done to make exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life the norm for infant feeding and achieve high coverages.

The trend of breastfeeding has shown improvement, however, still there is a long way ahead. In India, as per recent National Family Health Survey, only 41.8% mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth in spite of the fact that about 88.6% deliver in institutions. Further 63.7% babies are exclusively breastfed during first six months and 45.9% initiate complementary feeding at 6 months. [National Family Health Survey-5,2019-21].There is a need to improve these rates to provide impetus to child survival efforts.

Breastfeeding: An Investment in Health

A, nationwide programme named – ‘MAA’ (Mothers’ Absolute Affection) is being implemented by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India across States/UTs, starting from August 2016 provides an opportunity to improve rates of breastfeeding and appropriate child feeding practices in the country.

“This World Breastfeeding Week (1st -7th August, 2023) under its theme, “Let’s make breastfeeding at work, work” emphasized the need for greater breastfeeding support across all workplaces to sustain and improve progress on breastfeeding rates globally.

What are the advantages of breast-feeding?

Breastfeeding is beneficial to both infants and mothers. For most newborns, breast milk is the best source of nutrients. Breast milk changes as a newborn grows to satisfy the nutritional needs of the infant. Breastfeeding can also protect both the newborn and the mother from certain illnesses and diseases.

Breastfeeding is a natural and essential process of providing nourishment to infants through the mother’s breast milk. It holds immense relevance due to its numerous benefits for both the baby and the mother. Here are some key aspects of breastfeeding and its relevance:

  • Optimal Nutrition
  • Immune System Support
  • Cognitive Development
  • Reduced Risk of Illnesses
  • Bonding and Emotional Well-being
  • Postpartum Benefits for Mothers
  • Economic and Environmental Benefits.
  • Natural Birth Control
  • Long-Term Health Benefits:
BENEFITS FOR CHILDREN Infants who are breastfed have a lower risk of:BENEFITS FOR MOTHER Women who breastfeed have a lower risk of:
AsthmaDiabetes type II.
ObesityBreast Cancer.
Diabetes type oneOvarian Cancer.
Lower respiratory illness that is severe.High blood Pressure.
Acute otitis media (infections of the ears).Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)Decreased excessive menstrual blood loss.
Infections of the gastrointestinal tract (diarrhea/vomiting)Endometrial Cancer.
Preterm newborns with necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).Thyroid cancers
Childhood overweight and obesity 
 Type 1 and type 2 diabetes 
Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis 
Celiac Disease 


How Long Should You Breastfeed Your Child?

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF recommends that:

  • Breastfeeding be initiated within one hour of birth;
  • Infants feed on nothing but breast milk for the first six months of life;
  • Infants continue breastfeeding until at least the age of two; and
  • Infants be introduced to adequate, safe and complementary foods beginning at six months.

Infants should be breastfed on demand, which is whenever the kid desires, day or night. There should be no use of bottles, teats, or pacifiers. Children should begin consuming safe and adequate supplementary foods at the age of 6 months while continuing to nurse for up to two years or longer.

Positioning and attachment in breastfeeding:

Breastfeeding is a skill that both you and your baby must learn together, and it can take some practice. Breastfeeding can be done in a variety of postures. You can experiment with different ones to see which one works best for you.

Signs of good positioning Your baby’s head and body are in line. A baby cannot suckle or swallow easily if their head is twisted or bent.Your baby is held close to your body. A baby cannot attach well to the breast if they are far away from it.Your baby’s whole body is supported with your arm along their back. This is particularly important for newborns and young babies. For older babies, support of the upper part of the body is usually enough. Your baby approaches breast nose to nipple, so that they come to your breast from underneath the nipple.   Source: UNICEF

How to Determine Whether Your Baby Is Getting Enough Milk:

  • Your infant will begin feeding with a few quick sucks, followed by lengthier sucks.
  • Their cheeks remain rounded, not sucked in, and they can be heard swallowing.
  • Your infant appears peaceful when feeding and removes themself from your breast when they’ve eaten enough.
  • After most feeds, they appear content and satisfied.
  • They should be healthy and gaining weight (although it is common for newborns to lose some weight in the first week after delivery).
  • Your infant should have at least six wet nappies per day after the first few days.
  • Your baby’s poop should no longer be black and thick after 5 to 6 days, and they should have at least 2 soft or runny yellow poop.

What are the Breastfeeding Contraindications or Feeding Expressed Breast Milk to Infants?

  1. An infant has been diagnosed with typical galactosemia, a rare inherited metabolic disorder.
  2. Mother has HIV and is either not receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) or is receiving ART but has not achieved persistent viral suppression during pregnancy (at least during the third trimester) or at the time of birth, or is unable to maintain prolonged viral suppression postpartum. If a mother with a detectable viral load chooses to breastfeed, the provider should stay involved, provide advice on ARV prophylaxis and HIV testing for the newborn, and assist the parent in regaining and maintaining virologic suppression.
  3. Mother has a human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II (HTLV-1/2) infection.
  4. Mother is addicted to drugs such as painkillers, PCP (phencyclidine), or cocaine. (Breastfeeding should be promoted for moms who have stopped using illicit opioids or other substances and are on stable methadone or buprenorphine maintenance therapy.)
  5. Mother has been diagnosed with Ebola virus illness.
  6. The mother has untreated brucellosis.
  7. If the mother is taking some drugs, receiving immunizations, and using other substances like tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol.
  8. Mother has an active herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection with breast lesions.
  9. Mother is infected with the MPOX virus.
  10. Mother has active tuberculosis that is untreated.
  11. My mother has active varicella.

Promoting breastfeeding is crucial for both a healthy life and the well-being of the child. Breast milk provides essential nutrients and antibodies that support the baby’s immune system and overall growth. It helps protect against infections, reduces the risk of chronic diseases, and enhances cognitive development. For the mother, breastfeeding promotes bonding with the baby and aids in postpartum recovery. It also reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and may contribute to better weight management.

To promote breastfeeding, it is crucial to create a supportive environment for mothers. This includes offering proper education and counseling during prenatal care and in the early postpartum period. Healthcare providers should be well-informed about the benefits of breastfeeding and be prepared to address any challenges or concerns that new mothers may face.

Moreover, workplaces and public spaces should provide breastfeeding-friendly facilities, allowing mothers to nurse comfortably and without judgment. Family and societal support are also crucial; encouraging partners, family members, and friends to support breastfeeding can make a significant difference in a mother’s decision to breastfeed.

To encourage breastfeeding, healthcare providers should provide education and support to new mothers, highlighting the benefits and proper techniques. Family and societal support are equally vital in creating a breastfeeding-friendly environment. By promoting breastfeeding, we can contribute to healthier lives for both mothers and children.

In conclusion, promoting breastfeeding is a multifaceted endeavor that involves education, support, and a positive societal attitude. By prioritizing and advocating for breastfeeding, we can contribute to the health and well-being of both mothers and children, laying the foundation for a healthier, happier future.

The author is Investigator, CPHC-ILC AB

Comments are closed.