Of breastfeeding and its various benefits

Health alert
Last Updated 04 November 2015, 18:41 IST

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends “exclusive breastfeeding” to newborns up to six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. However, owing to lack of time and the pressure to resume work, many working mothers are forced to resort to formula milk. This, say experts, puts young babies at risk of various kinds of allergies and infections, obesity and even cancer.

“Breastfeeding has endless benefits. In fact the first milk, ‘colostrum’, a thick, sticky, yellow/transparent liquid, is also known as the first vaccine of the baby. Breast milk acts as a passage for transfer of the antibodies and fighter cells from the mother to the infant. It gives protection against all types of infections and

allergies,” says Dr Chitra Nagaraj, associate professor, community medicine, Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences, Bangalore.

She adds that breastfeeding in its initial days is painful many women don’t practise first hour breastfeeding. “But this pain has a lot of rewards in return for babies and mothers also,” she says.

Agrees Dr Anita Sharma, childbirth educator and lactation counsellor at Delhi’s Fortis Healthcare Limited, and says that breast milk protects the baby from infections of the gut, urinary tract and respiratory tract. “Breastfed babies are at a lower risk of early childhood cancer, obesity,

and many allergies like asthmas. Breast milk is that protective cover from a mother to a baby which strengthens his/her immunity levels,” she tells Metrolife.

Listing the drawbacks of formula milk, experts say that it lacks antibodies, essential fatty acids and lipase - an enzyme that helps in digestion compared to breast milk.

“With the cutting edge technology today, formula companies have managed to add iron, nucleotides, minerals, and fatty acids like

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to modified cow’s milk proteins to get these powders closer to breast milk. But it’s essential to know that breast milk is a live fluid which has live white blood cells, antibodies and many other elements which can never be present in formulas. The idea of feeding a baby is not just for nourishment and weight gain, but is to enhance their immune system,” says Dr Preeti Gangan, pediatrician and lactation consultant at Mumbai’s Cheers Child Care.

On the level of awareness on breastfeeding amongst young mothers in India, Nagaraj says it is “very low”, adding that despite its well-known benefits, breastfeeding has a fewer percentage of women continuing the practice for the recommended
period of time.

“More often than not, working mothers switch from breastfeeding to other alternatives in order to manage their work life and motherhood together. One of the reasons that have resulted in the decline of breastfeeding pattern among women is the promotion of manufactured breast milk substitutes, while experts have time and again emphasised that there is no substitute to breast milk. In the light of prevailing situations, there is a dire need not only to revive a breastfeeding culture, but also to equip working mothers with an environment that facilitates and supports responsibilities that come with being a mother,” she says.

So, what are the steps a working mother can take so that her child does not suffer? “Mothers can express breast milk and store. This is fed to the baby when the mother is away at work and ensures the infant continues to receive all the advantages of breast milk. Nowadays, a lot of technological advancements have been made to store mother’s milk and the baby can enjoy it at any hour. One of the newest and user friendly advancement is breast pumps,” says Sharma.

Concurring, Gangan says that using breast pumps to express breast milk is the most “scientific, convenient and hygienic” method.

“It’s very essential to make the young mothers understand this. These breast pumps are available in different ranges from manual to electronic ones, so every mother can choose one depending on her need to pump, and of course her affordability. One can store breast milk at room temperature for six-seven hours, in the refrigerator for eight days and in the freezer compartment for 15 days to three months,” she tells Metrolife.

Another solution, according to experts, are milk banks, “but there is time before people start using it”, they feel.

(Published 04 November 2015, 14:55 IST)

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