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World Breastfeeding Week: Know the Importance, Pros to Mother & Baby

According to the deceleration signed by WHO, UNICEF; World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year in the first week of August (1st -7th) to promote breastfeeding and spread awareness across the world to encourage the better health of the mother and child.

Importance of Breastfeeding

Breast milk is naturally produced by women specially adapted to meet the needs of the baby from birth. It has benefits for its health and development for the first several months of life. In addition, breastfeeding also has benefits for the mother.

In fact, breast milk has 3 different stages: colostrum, transitional milk, and mature milk. Colostrum is the thick, sticky, yellowish fluid that comes first after giving birth. It is high in proteins, immunoglobulins, fat-soluble vitamins, and minerals. It also helps protects the baby from a variety of viral and bacterial infections. This first milk lasts for 3 to 4 days after giving birth. From day 5 to 14, the milk is called transitional milk (changes from colostrum to matured milk). From 4 weeks onwards breast milk may be completely matured. It is composed of several components that benefit the baby as well as the mother’s health.

Composition of Breast Milk

The composition of breast milk varies during breastfeeding to adapt to the baby’s needs. Additionally, it can also change according to the mother’s diet. The taste of the milk can change, allowing the baby to get used to different flavors.

Commercial preparations for infants are becoming better adapted to the needs of babies. However, some components of human milk can not be imitated. This is the case for antibodies, enzymes, hormones, growth factors and living cells.

1. Breast milk contains millions of immune-boosting live white blood cells, thus helps protect the baby from infections, as well as stem cells for organ development and assists in healing.

2. Simultaneously, holds 1000+ proteins made up of 20 amino acids that are non-allergenic, easy to absorb and easy to digest.

3. Contains oligosaccharides that provide the energy, and also act as prebiotics, feeding good bacteria in the baby’s gut.

4. Rich in vitamins and minerals.

5. Contains several enzymes that make it easier for the baby to digest.

6. Has essential fatty acids that could influence brain development and vision.

7. Holds antibodies and antimicrobial molecules that help the baby defend against bacteria and viruses.

8. Contains hormones and growth factors that could stimulate the growth and development of the child’s digestive system and immune system.

Vitamin D Supplementation

American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving vitamin D supplement to breastfed babies up to 1 year of age. Furthermore, the recommended dose is 400 IU per day. However, be careful with the overdose if you use liquid vitamin D.

Pros of Breastfeeding for the Baby’s Health

There is a lot of scientific evidence on the benefits of breastfeeding.

1. Breast milk is readily available and economical. Finally, it is ecological because it leaves no waste and requires no transport.

2. Breastfed babies are less often affected by infections. Their risk of gastrointestinal infections (eg, gastroenteritis and diarrhea) is significantly reduced compared to babies fed commercial preparations.

3. Breastfed babies also have a lower risk of upper respiratory infection (colds, flu).

4. Breastfeeding also decreases the frequency of bronchiolitis, pneumonia and ear infections.

5. Breastfeeding would be associated with a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

6. Breastfeeding may have a protective effect against certain inflammatory diseases, for example:
– eczema,
– type 1 diabetes,
– inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease.

7. Some studies suggest that breastfeeding reduces the risk of being overweight and obese. However, the results of the studies are sometimes contradictory.

8. The majority of studies have noted that breastfed children have better results in intelligence tests.

Pros of Breastfeeding for the Mother

1. Exclusive and prolonged breastfeeding can help the mother lose weight by burning extra calories.
2. Breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast cancer and possibly ovarian cancer.
3. Exclusive and prolonged breastfeeding delays the return of menstruation.
4. Breastfeeding helps the uterus to contract and return to its pre-pregnancy size.
5. Lowers the risk of osteoporosis.

Breastfeeding Creates Maternal-Infant Bonding

Indeed, the act of breastfeeding allows skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby. Breastfeeding therefore not only meets the baby’s nutritional needs but also his need for warmth and safety.

As breastfeeding allows frequent interactions between the mother and her baby, the bond of attachment is thus reinforced. However, this proximity also occurs each time a mother takes her baby in her arms to offer him the bottle.

Duration of Breastfeeding

If a baby is not breastfed, he should be given a cow’s milk formula. This breast milk substitute has been adapted to meet the nutritional needs of the baby. Ordinary cow’s milk is not suitable for feeding a baby under 9 months of age.

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend feeding babies exclusively with breast milk for the first 6 months of life. Breastfeeding can then continue for 2 years and beyond if complementary foods are included in the baby’s diet.

However, some beneficial effects of the mother feeding on the health of the child and the mother are related to its duration and exclusivity. The longer breastfeeding lasts (in the number of months) and the more exclusive it is (breastfed child only), the more beneficial the effects are.

For example, children who have been breastfed exclusively for 4 months are at greater risk of infection between the age of 4 to 6 months than children who have been breastfed exclusively for more than 6 months.

Written by MedPlus