One of the most heartwarming scenes in this world is a mother breastfeeding her baby. It is a very crucial moment where the bond between these two establishes and deepens. Indeed, it is an act of love, and holds a very high significance in growth and development of the baby as well as in the well-being of the mother. Though Sri Lankan mothers are significantly adopting breastfeeding the babies during the infancy, they still need to be made aware since there are several myths and stigmas about breastfeeding in society.

Stepping up for breastfeeding

“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, Department of Paediatrics, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Dr. Manori Gamage MBBS MD (PAED), explained the significance of breastfeeding to Ceylon Today upon request.

In consideration to 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, breast milk is considered “live” milk, and 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 before the proper time of delivery, and of a mother whose baby is born on correct date, is different. They lactate to suit the baby’s age-wise requirements,” Consultant Community Physician, Family Health Bureau, Ministry of Health, Dr. Hiranya Jayawickrama MBBS, MSc, MD (Community Medicine), exemplified.

Another benefit of breastfeeding is that Breast milk contains white blood cells, and a number of anti-infective factors i.e. 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 his 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 well-being 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. Manori Gamage.

Why not formula milk?

In fact, Sri Lanka indicates the highest rates in the national breastfeeding indicators in the world and it is such a great achievement. Nevertheless it is becoming a trend in the urban communities 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. Manori Gamage. “It is evident that babies who are breastfed are less prone diseases like 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.

Lactating mothers

Speaking of the proper lactating during the breastfeeding period, Dr. Manori Gamage mentions that it is crucial for the mothers to stay healthy, both physically and psychologically during the lactating period. Yet, it is to be remembered that unless the mother is utterly weak there won’t be any issue regarding the lactation. Therefore, the mothers should not be advised to shift to formula milk feeding simple because they look weak.

In fact, there is a significant role for the immediate family members, especially for the father, in assisting the lactating mother during this period. Highlighting the role of the father, the Family Health Bureau says, “You are an important member of the breastfeeding team. When fathers support breastfeeding and are involved in caring for the baby, breastfeeding improves, the parental relationship is better, and their infants develop more quickly. As a father, have faith in breastfeeding as the best nutrition for your infant and stay positive.”

Adding to that, all the key stake holders of the warm chain including community members, young people, fathers, Mother Support Groups, environmentalists, media, academia, trade unions and all health care staff providing maternal and child health services in preventive and curative sectors including Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Paediatricians, Medical Nutritionists and Dieticians and related disciplines, are encouraged by the FHB to take actions to promote breastfeeding while “building an enabling environment for breastfeeding under the present difficult circumstances and also protect against industry influence.”

By Induwara Athapattu