The bond between the mother and the baby forms, while, the baby is still in the womb. Thus it grows stronger and deeper, and in fact lasts for the life. Breastfeeding is a moment where this bond visibly and beautifully surfaces between the two. Indeed, it is an act of love, and holds a very high significance in growth development of the baby as well as in the wellbeing of the mother. Nevertheless, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that nearly two out of three infants are not exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months, at a global level. This rate, however, has not reduced over the past two decades.
World Breastfeeding Week
Having had concerns regarding proper breastfeeding already, WHO and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) released a joint statement under the title statement, ‘Protecting, Promoting and Supporting Breastfeeding: The Special Role of Maternity Services’, in 1989, highlighting the numerous benefits of breastfeeding—infant and maternal health, environmental sustainability, and accessibility. In 1990, Innocenti Declaration was produced by the UNICEF, pledging to commit to protect and support breastfeeding by addressing social norms, workplace regulations and providing adequate education for mothers.
The first World Breastfeeding Week in 1992 was declared along with the focus of Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) which collaboratively functions with WHO and UNICEF, agreeing that breastfeeding is a human right of mothers and children. Since then, The World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated in the first week of August every year, aiming to promote and support breastfeeding. It is commemorated this year – 2022 – under the theme, ‘Step up for Breastfeeding; Educate and Support’ with the focus of ‘strengthening the capacity of actors that have to protect, promote and support breastfeeding across different levels of society’.
‘Step up for Breastfeeding; Educate and Support’
In concert to the World Breastfeeding Week, the Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka, also has declared the National Breastfeeding Week from 1 to 7 August, under the same theme. In the statement issued by the Health Family Health Bureau (FHB), they further that, “Considering the current crisis situation in the country which warrants the need to reaffirm breastfeeding as part of good nutrition and food security the whole month of August will be devoted to the promotion of breastfeeding…” The Ministry of Health also declares;
n Informing people about their role in strengthening the warm chain – a link of different actors across the health, community and workplace sectors providing a continuum of care during the first 1000 days of life promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding, placing the mother-baby dyad at the centre of support for breastfeeding.
n Establishing breastfeeding as part of good nutrition, food security and reduction of inequalities.
n Engaging with individuals and organizations along the warm chain of support for breastfeeding.
n Galvanizing action on strengthening capacity of actors and systems for transformational change.
To be the prime objectives behind the National Breastfeeding Week 2022.
Continuum breastfeeding for the first six months
“Breastfeeding is very important for the baby and for the mother as well. It is the best food that can be fed the baby with, for the first six months of life. Mother lactates according to the needs of the baby. So, breast milk contains all the nutrients, antibodies and so on, which are essential for the healthy growth of the baby,” Senior Lecturer at the Department of Paediatrics, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Dr. Manori Gamage explained the significance of breastfeeding to Ceylon Today upon request.
In fact, The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, National Nutrition Policy of Sri Lanka – 2010, and Maternal and Child Health Policy – 2012 also, have recommended exclusively breastfeeding of infants for the first six months of life and continue breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary feeding till two years of age and beyond. There is a plethora of benefits obtained by the baby as well as the mother by breast feeding indeed.
Talking about the nutritional requirements of the baby, breast milk fully serves the requirement as it contains essential fatty acids that are needed for a baby’s growing brain and eyes, and for healthy blood vessels. Most significantly, the composition of the breast Milk also varies according to the age of the baby, from the beginning to the end of a feed. “For an instance, the composition of breast milk of a mother whose baby is born ere the proper time of delivery, and of a mother whose baby is born on correct date, is totally different. They lactate to suit the baby’s health and nutritional necessities” Consultant Community Physician, Family Health Bureau, Ministry of Health, Dr. Hiranya Jayawickrama exemplified speaking to Ceylon Today.
Another benefit of breastfeeding is that Breast milk contains white blood cells, and a number of anti-infective factors such as Lactoferrin, lysozyme, and immunoglobulin, which supports to safeguard a baby against numerous infections. Synonymously, breast milk is also enriched with antibodies against infections that the mother has had in the past. Therefore, whence a mother develops an infection, white blood cells in her body activate, and commence to produce antibodies against the infection to protect her. Some of these white blood cells flow into her breasts and make antibodies which are secreted in her breast milk to protect her baby. So, it is not necessary that a baby is separated from the mother when she has an infection, because her breast milk protects the baby against the infection.
In the same token, breastfeeding ensures the mother’s health and wellbeing too.it helps the uterus to return to its previous size so that bleeding ceases and also, it can help to prevent anaemia in the mother as well. “It has been scientifically proven that proper breastfeeding of the baby is able to diminish the risk of ovarian cancer as well as breast cancer in the mother, also” furthered Dr. Gamage.
Breastfeeding vs formula milk feeding
It is a common trend nowadays that mothers tend to feed babies with formula milk instead of breast milk, mostly because it is very convenient. Nevertheless, it should be kept in mind that there is a huge risk behind the convenience of formula milks.
“Formula milks are made from a variety of products, including animal milks, soybean and vegetable oils and they are artificially adjusted so that they are more like human milk. Nonetheless they are still far from being the perfect food for babies,” shared Dr. Gamage. “It is evident that babies who are breastfed are less prone diseases such as diarrhoea and acquire higher IQ levels than the babies who are formula-milk-fed. Also, there are evidences to prove that the breastfed babies have a very low risk of getting obese, which is a major concern at present.”
In fact, all types of milks contain fat which provides energy, protein for growth and a milk sugar called lactose, which also provides energy. However animal milk contains more protein than human milk. Therefore, it is quite difficult a task for a baby’s immature kidneys to excrete the extra waste produced from the protein in animal milks. At the same time, artificially-fed babies are highly vulnerable to develop intolerance to high proteins levels contain in animal milk. Hence, they may develop diarrhoea, abdominal pain, rashes and other symptoms when they have feeds that contain the different kinds of protein.
“However there are some instances where babies have to be artificially-fed. For an instance, when the mother doesn’t enough lactate milk for the baby, caused due to many reasons, we have to go for an alternative, lest the baby doesn’t receive enough nutrients. Anyhow, it is advisable to go for breastfeeding as much as possible unless there is a special requirement of formula milk,” explained Dr. Gamage.
Breastfeeding during the present crisis
In consideration of the country’s on-going condition with the drastic inflation rates and crisis, the Ministry of Health depicts that stepping up for breastfeeding the babies is the most intelligible measure to take at this moment, both economically and health-wise because of its multiple advantages. Furthering on the statement, the Ministry of Health highlights benefits of breastfeeding, particularly during the crisis;
n It is a low-cost way of providing the best nutrition and protection from illnesses for the baby.
n It protects the baby against common illnesses both in the short and long-term. It reduces the risk of cancer and other health conditions in the mother.
n The cost of not breastfeeding is huge for families and nations especially when the country is in a state of economic crisis as at present, the resultant formula feeding (infant /growing up or other milk powder) being a burden to the family and the country in addition to posing health risks to the baby.
n Breastfeeding is also a climate-smart decision and acts as a key to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Therefore, the current crisis situation in the country warrants the need to reaffirm breastfeeding as part of good nutrition, health and food security.
Speaking of the proper lactating during the breastfeeding period, Dr. Gamage mentions that it is crucial for the mothers to stay healthy, both physically and psychologically, to ensure that they lactate to meet the babies’ milk requirement.
“There are cases where the mother doesn’t lactate adequately. In fact, lactating process is totally controlled by hormones, but food also plays a role in it. So, consuming a well-balanced meal is really important for lactating mothers. Especially they should make sure that they drink enough liquids during this period,” she furthered. “Also, it is advised to continue the vitamin intake which is prescribed during the pregnancy for two months even after the delivery since it helps to lactate. After all, the mother has to be in a good mental health condition, free from stress and anxiety. Many mothers become unable to lactate due to unnecessary stress.”
By Induwara Athapattu