As a newborn takes the first breath on earth, the first food or drink he/she gets introduced to is nothing else but mother’s breast milk, which is extremely crucial for the baby’s survival. Breast milk or colostrum is a thick, yellowish and sticky but highly nutritious secretion, which is extremely nutritious for the baby, which contains essential nutrients to boost the child’s immunity.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that babies should be exclusively breastfed at least for 6 months, and then gradually introduced to other necessary foods while continuing to breastfeed for 2 years or more.
Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. Breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese and less prone to diabetes later in life. Women who breastfeed, have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers, says WHO.
The WHO defines breastmilk is the ‘ideal food for infants’. ‘It is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses. Breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one third during the second year of life,’ it says.
Breastfeeding benefits on children
Doctors recommend exclusive breastfeeding for first six months of life, which means the baby should survive only on breast milk and no other milk, food, drink or even water. Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure a child’s health and survival. Breastfeeding works as the first vaccination to the child. Globally, infants below six months are mostly breast-fed. Illness like ear infections, allergies, pneumonia, cancer, diabetes and other issues to the mother and children can be avoided with regular breastfeeding to the child, according to doctors.
In a joint statement issued by UNICEF Executive Director and WHO Director-General on the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week 2023, it has been said, “From the earliest moments of a child’s life, breastfeeding is the ultimate child survival and development intervention. Breastfeeding protects babies from common infectious diseases and boosts children’s immune systems, providing the key nutrients children need to grow and develop to their full potential. Babies who are not breastfed are 14 times more likely to die before they reach their first birthday than babies who are exclusively breastfed.”
Breastfeeding benefits on mother
Breast cancer is the commonest form of cancer affecting women not only in India but also across the world. Breast feeding is known to decrease the risk of mothers developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Breastfeeding makes certain changes in breast tissues which reduce its risk of falling prey to breast cancer. Excess exposure to estrogen hormone increases the risk of breast cancer. Estrogen level in a woman’s body decreases prior to giving birth and throughout the period when she breastfeeds her child.
Breastfeeding also positively impacts the mother’s mental health by enhancing the emotional attachment she has with her child. Breastfeeding is also known to control, anxiety, mood swings and stress. Studies have also linked breastfeeding with reduced postpartum depression.