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Most people think that breastfeeding is just about feeding mother’s milk to an infant after the birth, but in reality it is more than that. Breastfeeding is a way of bonding that ensures a child stays close to the mother, wrapped in her warmth and gets all the nourishment needed when out of the womb. Technically, breastfeeding refers to the practice of feeding infants milk from the mammary glands. In fact, it is recommended that one should start breastfeeding immediately after the birth, even though this practice is not followed in most of the hospitals and maternity centers in India.
Breast milk is complete food an infant needs to survive and thrive, after birth. It contains nutrients that are vital during the initial months of her life. It contains protein, Vitamin A and salts that can be easily digested by the newborn’s delicate digestive system. The WHO recommends that a child should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of her life. Despite creating awareness among the masses, there is stagnation in the breastfeeding rates in developing countries like India.
According to National Family Health Survey -3 (NFHS-3) data, 20 million babies are not able to receive exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and about 13 million do not get good timely and appropriate complementary feeding after six months in India.
Breastfeeding is beneficial for both the mother and the baby. While it helps in cognitive development, builds immunity and safeguards the baby from various infections and diseases, it helps the mother to shed weight, reduced risk of certain cancers including ovarian and breast cancer and lower chances of conception.
Benefits Of Breastfeeding For The Baby
The benefits of breastfeeding cannot be stressed enough. It provides complete nutrition for the baby during the first six months of her life. It is easily digestible and contains protein and fat in the right quantities, more lactose, enough vitamins and iron, right quantity of water, correct amount of salts, calcium, and phosphate and special enzymes to digest fat. Breast milk protects the baby from early zinc deficiency and iron deficiency anemia.
While it is believed that breastfeeding is natural and doesn’t cause any hindrance, however, this thought is a myth. There are women who might not have a smooth breastfeeding experience as compared to others. Engorgement, cracked nipples, improper latch are some of the issues that can pose a problem during breastfeeding these issues are also one of the reasons why many mothers prefer to give up breastfeeding.
But help is right around the corner, there are lactation experts and support groups like La Leche League that provide enough support, advice and help mother overcome such problems.
Lack of breastfeeding awareness and proper support during the first six weeks post delivery is what makes breastfeeding rates drop drastically. Most breastfeeding association and organizations in the world such as World Health Organisation (WHO), Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP), Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), La Leche League International (LLLL) categorically agree on minimum breastfeeding for the first 2 years of life.
During the first six months, a baby is expected to breastfeed 10 to 12 times a day exclusively. Once solids have been introduced at about six months, mother’s milk still remains the primary food until the baby turns one year of age. Therefore, it is important to know the introduction of solids is a supplement and not a replacement to breast milk till the child turns one.
Benefits Of Breastfeeding For The Mother
Breastfeeding also benefits the mother. However, most women are unaware of this fact. Because breastfeeding calls for some effort and a long-term commitment many women drop it mid-way and opt for early weaning. Another reason for the same is a lack of awareness and support for the mothers who want to breastfeed. During gestation, enormous changes occur in women’s metabolism to ensure sufficient supply to the fetus.
Breast-feeding resets these metabolic changes in a favorable way both for the mother and the baby. Mother’s failure to breastfeed is associated with an increased incidence of premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, retained gestational weight gain, type 2 diabetes, myocardial infarction, and the metabolic syndrome.
The Current Scenario
UNICEF says that despite compelling evidence that exclusive breastfeeding prevents diarrhoea and pneumonia, global rates of breastfeeding have remained relatively stagnant in the developing world, growing from 32% in 1995 to 39% in 2010. ‘If breastfeeding were promoted more effectively, we would see more children survive, with lower rates of disease and lower rates of malnutrition and stunting,’ said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake.
Proper breastfeeding exercises could prevent millions of deaths every year. A recent Lancet study also highlighted the fact that non-breastfed children are 14 times likelier to die in the first six months than exclusively breastfed children.