According to medical ex- perts breastfeeding is one of the most effec- tive ways to ensure child health and survival. A lack of exclusive breastfeeding dur- ing the first six months of life con- tributes to over a million avoidable child deaths each year.
UNICEF said babies who are exclu- sively breastfed are 14 times less
likely to die than babies who are not breastfed. Today, only 41 per cent of infants 0–6 months old are exclusively breastfed, a rate WHO Member States have committed to increasing to at least 50 per cent by 2025.
WHO actively promotes breast- feeding as the best source of nour- ishment for infants and young children. Many medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Ameri- can College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Nigerian Medi- cal Association (NMA) strongly rec- ommend breastfeeding exclusively (no formula, juice, or water) for 6 months.
And breastfeeding for a year at least with other foods which should be started at 6 months of age, such as vegetables, grains, fruits, pro- teins. If the mother supplement with formula, the breasts might make less milk. The experts said that the first few days after birth, the mother’s breasts make an ideal “first milk.” It’s called colostrum.
Colostrum is thick, yellowish, and scant, but there’s plenty to meet the baby’s nutritional needs. Colostrum helps a newborn’s digestive tract develop and prepare itself to digest breast milk.
Most babies lose a small amount of weight in the first 3 to 5 days af- ter birth. This is unrelated to breast- feeding. As the baby needs more milk and nurses more, the mother’s breasts respond by making more milk.
The health benefits of breast milk are numerous as itemized by the WHO.
Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat, everything the baby needs to grow. And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than in- fant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help the baby fight off viruses and bacteria.
Breastfeeding lowers the baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies.
Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have
fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor. Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies. What’s more, the physical closeness, skin- to-skin touching, and eye contact all help the baby bond with the mother and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children.
The AAP says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syn- drome). It’s been thought to lower the risk of diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers as well.
Breastfeeding is also very benefi- cial to the mothers. Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so it can help the mother lose pregnancy weight
It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps the mother’s uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleed- ing after birth. Breastfeeding also lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
It lowers the risk of osteopo- rosis, too.
Since mothers don’t have to buy and measure formula, sterilize nip- ples, or warm bottles, it saves them time and money.
Even in this period of coronavi- rus pandemic, WHO/UNICEF has continued to encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies.
According to WHO/UNICEF, so far, the virus has not been found in breast milk and as such all mothers are advised to continue breastfeed- ing, while practicing good hygiene during feeding. Theseinclude the 3 Ws: Wear a mask during feeding; Wash hands with soap before and after touching the baby; Wipe and disinfect surfaces regularly.
According to WHO/UNICEF, the main risk for a baby is catching the virus from close contact with the mother or another infected member of the family, advising that if anyone is sick in the household, the family should take extra care to protect the baby by practising the 3 Ws. Moth- ers who get coronavirus shortly be- fore giving birth and begin breast- feeding, and those who become infected while breastfeeding, will produce immune factors (antibodies) in their milk to protect their baby and enhance the baby’s own immune re- sponses.
This means that continuing to breastfeed is the best way to fight the virus and protect the baby, WHO/ UNICEF said.
The World Health Organisation and its sister agency, UNICEF, in a state- ment released via its website recently said that evidence indicates that it is unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding. The UN agencies made the submis- sion after it released a new report on the status of the use of breast-milk substitutes across the world.
The re- port, “Marketing of breast-milk sub- stitutes: National implementation of the International Code – Status report 2020”, provides updated information on the status of country implementa- tion, including which measures have and have not been enacted into law.
The new report released by WHO, UNICEF, and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) reveals that despite efforts to stop the harm- ful promotion of breast-milk substi- tutes, countries are still falling short in protecting parents from misleading information.
It noted that the moni- toring and enforcement of the Code is inadequate in most countries and most of the companies are beginning to take advantage of the pandemic to push their products to the market.
“The numerous benefits of breast- feeding substantially outweigh the potential risks of illness associated with the virus,” the authors find. Breast milk is the only accepted food recommended for infants for the first six months of their lives.
Breastmilk saves children’s lives as it provides antibodies that give them a healthy boost and protect them against many childhood ill- nesses. The COVID-19 scare has made some suspected and con- firmed COVID-19 female patients stop breastfeeding and resulted in the use of breast milk substitutes.
However, WHO and UNICEF said it is yet to be proven that children can contract the virus through breast-milk. WHO and UNICEF said active COVID-19 virus has not, to date, been detected in the breastmilk of any mother with con- firmed or suspected COVID-19.
Given the numerous health ben- efits of breastfeeding it should be encouraged by government, moth- ers and fathers and the general public.