A source of wellness

Breastfeeding provides a strong foundation for your child’s physical, mental and emotional growth. Here's how

A newborn baby has only three demands — the warmth in its mother’s arms, food from her breast and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three. WHO declared “breastfeeding and administration of human milk” to be the normative practice for infant feeding and nutrition.

Breastfeeding is being stressed upon so much because breast milk is complete food for infants up to six months of age, it induces gut maturity, contains many anti-infective factors, increases immunity, reduces the risk of allergies, prevents dental caries and malocclusions and increases intelligence and IQ.

Multiple pluses

Apart from the physical benefits, breastfeeding also propagates bonding between the mother and her baby. For the mother, it helps with birth spacing, reduces the risk of hypertension, breast and ovarian cancers. Breastfeeding is nature’s liposuction! It helps mothers return to healthy pre-pregnancy weight and hence reduces the risk of diabetes. Hence, optimal breastfeeding has positive lifelong effects on both mother and child.

WHO and UNICEF recommend that breastfeeding should be initiated within an hour of birth. Babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life and continued till two years or beyond along with nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods starting at six months.

Although the rate of initiation at birth is high globally, only 40% of the babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months and only 45% of them continue till two years.

Breastfeeding helps to prevent malnutrition in all its forms, ensures food security for infants and young children. It is, therefore, a foundation of life. Protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding is vital to a more sustainable world. And this is how we need to go about it:

Preventing malnutrition: Malnutrition includes both undernutrition and overnutrition. Globally, among children under five years of age, 155 million are stunted, 52 million are underweight for their age and 41 million are overweight and obese. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity by 10% compared to breast milk substitutes. Breastfed babies had a 21% lower risk of death in their first year compared to non-breastfed ones.

Ensuring food security: Food security is affected by the availability of food, affordability and crises like natural disasters, conflicts and environmental degradation. The first 1,000 days of a baby’s life are critical as this is when the foundation for development is built. Breastfeeding ensures food security during this period. Breast milk is a natural renewable food that is environmentally safe compared to milk substitutes.

Breaking the cycle of poverty: Poverty leads to malnutrition due to non-affordability of food, nutritious foods and the farming supplies to grow fresh produce. An infant deprived of breast milk can suffer from low IQ, lower immunity, hence higher healthcare costs. Hence, breastfeeding has a significant effect on breaking the cycle of poverty.

Breast milk is nature’s perfect food for your baby and a mother’s gift to herself, her baby and to the society in turn.

(The author is consultant paediatrician, The Kids Clinic)

The initial days of breastfeeding can be quite a challenge for new mothers until they find their ideal position and comfortable space. Here's a helpful guide: 

Cradle Position: Sit comfortably on a bed with lots of pillows or on a chair that has supportive armrests, and rest your feet on a table or any raised surface. Hold the baby in your lap, adjust the baby in a way that the face, stomach, and knees are directly facing you. Put the lower arm of the baby under your own. Raise your baby to your breast and you can support your breast with your other hand. This position improves the baby's ability to latch on.

Cross-cradle hold: Hold the baby's head with the hand opposite to the breast from which you will be nursing from. Keep your wrist between your baby’s shoulder blades for support, your thumb behind one ear, your other fingers behind the other ear. Use your other hand to cup your breast as you would do for the cradle position. Bring your baby to the breast and not your breast towards the baby to avoid back or neck pain. 

Football: Hold your baby on either of your sides, you tuck your baby under your arm on the same side that you’re nursing from. For this position, you need to place one or two pillows at your side, then position your baby at your side, under your arm. Your baby’s feet and legs should be tucked under your arm and pointing towards your back. Then lift your baby to your breast. Use your forearm to support her upper back and hand to support his head. It helps mothers who had C-section to protect their belly from the pressure or the weight of the baby. This also works for mothers who have twins and want to feed both the babies at the same time. 

Lying down: Lie down on your comfortable side and turn your baby on your side with his chest and tummy facing you. You can make use of pillows or blanket behind you and your baby to support the back and to bring the baby towards you. Cradle your baby’s head with the hand of your bottom arm. You can support your breast with your other hand. This position is best for night feeding.

Laid back: You can rest down on the bed or couch so that you can lean your back and your back is well supported. Now you can put your baby on your chest. Keep your baby’s whole front in touch with your whole front and your baby’s cheek rest somewhere near your bare breast. You can relax and breastfeed. The baby can naturally latch on in this position without much effort.

(The author is a lactation consultant, Fortis Hospital)


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