It’s the annual World Breastfeeding Week and the benefits of breastfeeding through the lifetime of a human cannot be overemphasized.
According to recent survey results, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in Nigeria is at a disappointing 23.7%.
Although this is an increase from the previous data of 17%, we can do much better.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that:
“Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods for up to two years of age or beyond.”
Exclusive breastfeeding is when you give your baby only breast milk. No formula, no other liquids or solids are given – not even water. With the exception of oral rehydration solution, or drops/syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines.
Some mothers feel their baby needs water. Most of this is from misinformation and myths passed down to us. However, Breastmilk contains 87.5% water, which does quench thirst even in a hot climate. But even with this knowledge, some mothers are still convinced their baby still needs water.
Many studies have been carried out on breastfeeding and we can agree without a doubt that the benefits of breastfeeding are incomparable to anything. Breastfeeding is beneficial to your newborn, toddler and the benefits extend to their adult age. In addition, breastfeeding is beneficial to the mother, the economy, and the world as a whole.
What are the benefits of Breastfeeding/ Breastmilk to your newborn?
Breast milk acts as a laxative, helping your baby pass meconium (the initial dark stool) easily.
It protects the gut from infection and helps with gut maturation. The gut is one of the first lines of defence the body has. Any bacteria or virus that enters the gut can have access to the bloodstream of your baby, if not identified and prevented from executing its plan. So, having a protective mechanism in place is very important as the immune system of newborns is still developing.
Breast milk reduces the chance of NEC in premature babies. NEC is necrotizing enterocolitis, which is a disease that causes the tissues of the gut to become inflamed and start to die off, leading to perforation of the gut. This is one of the causes of death in premature babies. This can also occur in non-premature babies.
It lowers the risk of asthma, allergies, eczema, respiratory infections, diarrhoea, urinary tract infection, ear infection and leukemia. These are common illnesses that result in the high rate of death seen in babies that are not getting breastmilk.
It helps in the development of the brain and nervous system by providing fatty acids, folate, etc. Some studies have shown that breastfed babies perform better on intelligence tests.
Breast milk will bring fewer hospital visits and a shorter duration for illnesses. Whenever a baby gets sick, even before some of the symptoms become evident, your body has already picked up this information while your baby nurses. Your body will start producing antibodies specific to that infection. These are transferred via the breastmilk to help your baby to fight the infection. So, this immune boost gives your baby’s body an edge which in turn results in quicker recovery and shortens the duration of the illness.
Reduces the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Mothers that have experienced this will tell you it is the worst thing to ever happen to a new mum. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which is also known as “cot death,” is the sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby.
There is this mentality that once a mother breastfeeds for 6 months, then it’s time to stop. Breastfeeding/Breastmilk is as beneficial to your toddler as it is to your newborn. The composition of breast milk changes as the baby gets older to meet up with the child’s changing needs. The composition of your breastmilk while feeding a toddler is very different to the composition while nursing a newborn. Between one and two years, 448ml of your breastmilk provides 29% of your child’s daily energy requirements, 75% of his vitamin A requirement, 43% of his protein requirements and much more.
Benefits of breastfeeding to your baby does not only stop at infancy and toddler age, it extends to adult age. Adults who were breastfed as babies often have lower risks of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease and different cancers. As we can see from the list, these are chronic illnesses that plague adults resulting in untimely deaths and increased healthcare costs.
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