Breastfeeding: Why it is a must


Mother’s milk is the best source of nutrients for a newborn as it has all the nutrients and minerals that a baby needs. Surakshya Bhattarai, 30, of Chabahil is breastfeeding her child as “mother’s milk has all the nutrients and water necessary for a baby. As my child is just three months old I am exclusively breastfeeding him”.

To raise awareness and highlight the role of breastfeeding the World Breastfeeding Week is being celebrated worldwide from August 1 to 7. This year it is being celebrated with a slogan ‘Breastfeeding And Work: Let’s Make it Work!’

Exclusive breastfeeding: A must

“Exclusive breastfeeding means to nurture the baby only on mother’s milk. For the first six months following the birth of a baby, exclusive breastfeeding is essential,” informed Dr Manor Din Shaiyed, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Manmohan Teaching Hospital, Swoyambhu and Consultant Gynaecologist at Ministry of Health, Maldives.

Colostrum — a yellowish thick milk is secreted in new mothers after delivery. It is rich in vitamins, carbohydrate, proteins and minerals and has protective antibodies to prevent bacterial infections in infants. It helps in increasing immunity in the infant and also helps in neutralising bacteria and viruses. “This is why the newborns must be fed with colostrum within half-an-hour to one hour after birth,” informed the doctor.

In some of the cultures, newborns are fed with sugar water, honey, ghee immediately after birth, but the doctor says this must be avoided. New mothers must feed their child with colostrum. The milk is important to protect babies from infections such as diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections, gastroenteritis and other respiratory diseases. Further, it also helps in the growth and development of the child.

Advantages of breastfeeding

Breast milk is easy to digest and this is why infants do not suffer from indigestion if breastfed. It helps in the laxative action of the infants. It is non-allergic, is more convenient and cheaper. It also helps in involution of uterus — the process in which a uterus returns to its pre-pregnancy size and condition. Further it also helps in reduction of postpartum haemorrhage — loss of blood following childbirth. “It also helps in reducing neonatal death by reducing the risk of diarrhoea and malnutrition. These two are the major causes for neonatal death. Apart from that, breastfeeding also helps in reducing risk of asthma, food allergy, type 1 diabetes, leukaemia, cardiovascular diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis in children when they grow up,” informed Dr Shaiyed.

Breastfeeding also helps to reduce pregnancy weight, delays pregnancy and alleviates post-partum depression.

Maintaining mother-child bond

Breastfeeding helps in maintaining a close relationship between the mother and child. For Bhattarai, breastfeeding doesn’t only provide nutrition but also gives her a chance to hold her baby close. “I can make eye contact, study his features and cuddle him when I am breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is an enjoyable moment for me as it helps me get closer with my child,” Bhattarai added.

Another advantage of breastfeeding is that there is no additional cost of buying infant formula. “One even doesn’t need to spend time cleaning bottles and sterilising them. Mothers can spend time with her child/children which makes the bond even stronger,” shared Dr Shaiyed.

For working mothers

However, for working mothers it might not be possible to breastfeed their children and this year’s breastfeeding week is being celebrated viewing their problems. Family members can take the child to the mother. “Institutions must cut working hours for working mothers and even the government can increase the number of pregnancy leaves to promote breastfeeding. The institutions can arrange childcare unit to help their staff and promote breastfeeding,” opined the doctor.

Do’s and Don’ts

If the mother is suffering from HIV, then it is strongly advised not to breastfeed as there are chances for HIV transmission.

“They must not feed their child in a sleeping position as infants can suffer from ear infections when the milk moves directly to the Eustachian tube in ear. Feeding in a sitting position is a must,” added the doctor. A mother must not consume alcohol, smoke, and eat food items kept in a refrigerator, coffee or any antibiotics if she is breastfeeding. Latching must be done until the child sucks hind milk.

“To help the child suck hind milk, the mothers must latch their child for 5-10 minutes in each breast,” added the doctor.

Feed the baby at an interval of two to three hours and on demand. Breastfeeding should be extended up to two years as after two years children can eat other food items and fulfil their nutrient requirement.