Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is the normal process of providing young infants with the necessary nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. Moreover, it is one of the most effective way to ensure child health and survival.
WHO recommends colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy, as the perfect food for newborn and to initiate breastfeeding within the first hour after birth.
Initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth protects the newborn from acquiring infections. In addition, it also minimizes newborn mortality.
Infants should be exclusively breastfed (receive only breast milk not even water) for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. However, only 36% of infants aged 0-6 months worldwide were exclusively breast fed over the period of 2007-2014, according to World Health Organisation.
Breastfeeding should be continued along with other complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
Breastfeeding offers numerous advantages to child as well as mothers.
Benefits of breastfeeding for mothers
Breastfeeding is associated with natural method of birth control (98% protection in the first six months).
It minimizes risks of breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes, and postpartum depression. The National Institutes of Health reviewed more than 9,000 study abstracts and concluded that women who didn't breastfeed or who stopped breastfeeding early on had a higher risk of postpartum depression.
The hormone, oxytocin is released during breastfeeding which helps uterus to return to its pre pregnancy state (involution of uterus). Furthermore, it also reduces postpartum bleeding.
It provides adequate time for mothers to relax quietly with her baby.
It provides a unique emotional experience for the nursing mother and the baby. It creates powerful physical and emotional attachment between mother and baby.
It promotes weight loss after birth, burning about 500 extra calories a day to build and maintain milk supply.
Benefits of breastfeeding for babies
Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants because it contains abundant and easily absorbed nutritional components, perfect mixture of vitamins, protein, fat, antioxidants, enzymes, immune properties, and live antibodies from mother. Breast milk protect infants from common childhood illness, such as, diarrhoea and pneumonia, the two primary causes of child mortality worldwide. The incidences of pneumonia, colds and viruses are reduced among breastfed babies," says infant-nutrition expert Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and OB-GYN at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, N.Y.
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of developing chronic conditions, such as type I diabetes, celiac disease and crohn’s disease.
Breast milk is readily available and affordable, which helps to ensure that infants receive adequate nutrition.
Breastfeeding creates emotional bond between mother and baby.
Breastfed babies are less likely to become obese later in childhood.
Breastfed babies have fewer cavities, fewer instances of allergies, and improved brain maturation.
Research shows that breastfed babies have a better antibody response to vaccines than formula-fed babies.