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Importance Of Breastfeeding: Counselling And Awareness

Dr Shailaja Mane shares the importance of breastfeeding amongst all.

Written by Tavishi Dogra |Updated : September 13, 2022 7:31 PM IST

Childbirth is a highly emotional experience for all parents; it overwhelms them with love, happiness, excitement, a sense of responsibility, and a lot of anxiety and exhaustion. Yet, this incredible adventure of parenthood begins with the minute when a newborn baby is first held in the arms when the baby feels warm, safe and protected. In addition to providing nourishment and healing, breastfeeding strengthens an emotional bond with the mother.

World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding (no other milk or food)for six months, with continued breastfeeding and appropriate complementary foods until the child is two years of age or older. After that, breastfeeding should be started immediately. Even after caesarean section, most mothers receive spinal anaesthesia. Therefore, grandmothers, caretakers or staff should help the mothers with complicated delivery.

Like all other mammals, the natural duration of breastfeeding in human beings also should be somewhere between 2.5 to 7 years. This natural feeding helps mothers to continue to provide immunity and meet their baby's psychological needs as they grow. Therefore, complementary foods like rice, dal kanji, daliya, smashed banana, potato etc. should be started slowly after six months with continued breastfeeding.

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World Alliance for Breast Feeding Action (WABA) and the World Bank emphasize that breastfeeding has the single most significant impact on child mortality compared to any other preventative health measure. Breastfeeding can help avoid over 800,000 children and 20,000 maternal deaths globally annually due to several causes, including breast cancer and other forms of cancers, diabetes and other illnesses.

According to NFHS-5 data, the percentage of children under six months exclusively breastfed in India is 64% and 71% in Maharashtra. We must improve it for the better survival of newborns. It is commonly noted that breastfeeding has many positive health effects on the mother, baby, and society. Several studies have also consistently shown that the benefits of breastfeeding last well into adulthood as it protects from Noncommunicable Diseases like Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension and Cardiovascular Diseases as well.

Dr Shailaja Mane (Dr D Y Patil Medical College, Hospital and Research Centre, Pimpri, Pune) shares the importance of breastfeeding among all.

How Breastfeeding Benefits The Baby

  • Breastfeeding should be started immediately after delivery as newborns are very active after birth and need glucose. The first hour of birth can save one million newborns in the world. After that, the mother produces milk suited explicitly for her baby. Breast milk is a complex, living, biological fluid with an ideal ratio of nutrients in the proper proportions. It contains immunoglobulins, enzymes, hormones, growth factors, macrophages, etc., which help for appropriate nutrition, growth and development of newborns and infants.
  • Human milk contains lactose, which enhances calcium absorption and metabolizes into galactose and glucose, which supply energy to the infant's rapidly growing brain. In addition, numerous long-chain fatty acids, such as DHA and ARA, are present in human milk. These lipids maintain cell membrane integrity in the brain, retinas and other parts of the baby's body.
  • The primary short-term health benefits of breastfeeding are protection against morbidity and mortality from various infections like pneumonia and diarrhoea, which are the major killers of newborns and infants. In addition, breastfed infants have a lower chance of developing respiratory and ear infections, allergies, atopic diseases and asthma.
  • Secretory IgA and other immunoglobulins protect the ears, nose, throat, and gastrointestinal tract against foreign viruses and bacteria. Therefore, there is a reduced risk of Urinary tract infections, diarrhoea, gastrointestinal reflux and Necrotizing enterocolitis with breastfeeding.
  • The available evidence also suggests that breastfeeding has many long-term benefits. For example, extended breastfeeding periods significantly lower the chance of being overweight as an adult. In addition, breastfed children are less likely to be obese during adolescence. Thus it protects against the consequences of Obesity like heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
  • Breastfeeding helps for healthy psychosocial development of children. Further, it is contamination-free as it is given directly from the mother to the baby. It is at the right temperature and is easily digestible by the baby.

How Breastfeeding Benefits The Mother

  • It is very convenient and comfortable for the mother and requires no preparation. Early initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of delivery helps in premature expulsion of the placenta and also helps to reduce post-delivery bleeding as well. In addition, the continuation of breastfeeding allows the uterus to contract faster than pre-pregnancy.
  • Breastfeeding helps in family planning also as it delays the consequent pregnancy (lactational amenorrhea). It also protects the mother from post-delivery psychological disturbances like psychosis. Breastfeeding protects from post-menopausal osteoporosis as well.
  • Mother's pregnancy fat stores are utilized during the production of breast milk which helps her get back to her pre-pregnancy weight (to be complemented with moderate exercises and avoidance of excessive fat intake).
  • It has long-term health benefits for the mother, such as a decreased risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancers.

Breastfeeding Counselling

  • Counselling and support of the community for breastfeeding is the key to further improving breastfeeding rates. According to WHO, mothers need regular counselling from pregnancy until their babies are two years old.
  • WHO has developed a set of guidelines that defines the expected services and staff competencies required to provide high-quality counselling for breastfeeding. Everyone who caters to breastfeeding mom and baby dyads, like the obstetricians, gynaecologists, neonatologists, paediatricians, lactation consultants, counsellors, nursing staff, midwives and other paramedics, should all be involved as it is teamwork. In addition, they should all be well-versed with the updated knowledge and skills required for promoting and supporting optimum breastfeeding.
  • Imparting proper education about breastfeeding and creating awareness is crucial and should begin right from adolescence as they can become ambassadors for the campaign and help others.
  • Sensitization of pregnant women about the umpteen benefits of breastfeeding and preparing them for future challenges is significant. Hence antenatal breastfeeding counselling is essential. Along with moms-to-be, the father and the elderly in the families like grandmothers should also be encouraged to involve in these sessions.
  • Breastfeeding is one of the most sustainable elements of the food system, with zero carbon emissions and no food wastage. However, animal milk, artificial teats, and bottles can pollute the environment. Hence, breastfeeding is environment-friendly as well.

Breastfeeding Awareness

  • Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) of UNICEF must be implemented at all maternity hospitals by following the ten steps for breastfeeding. Furthermore, education programs must be carried out at the community level. In addition, the training for community health workers, doctors and nurses from special newborn care units (SCNUs) and district and sub-district levels is also essential.
  • As per NFHS- 5 data, the Neonatal mortality rate of India is 26/1000 live births, while that of Maharashtra is 16.5 /1000 live births. Therefore, breastfeeding is vital to save these babies, along with routine and exceptional care as per the need.
  • To bring about a considerable change for the betterment, the policymakers, academicians, advocates and the media must also be involved. Employers should create a breastfeeding-friendly environment and policies for lactating mothers. Assigned breastfeeding places like "Hirkani kaksh" must be made in all public areas. Media and celebrities must be vigilant and conscious that no wrong messages are spreading to the masses, which might hamper breastfeeding. Implementation of the Infant milk substitutes (IMS) act requires time.
  • With the boom of social media, it is the moral duty of all social media influencers and each one of us to contribute towards promoting and protecting breastfeeding. In addition, there is a dire need for mother support groups, which are moderated by experts in the field so that every mother can share her difficulties more freely and get support from moms who have overcome similar challenges.

Breastfeeding is a shared responsibility of all of us, and success can be achieved only when mothers receive a caring and supportive environment.

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