What you need to know:
- Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for new-borns, infants and young children.
- Breast milk contains the perfect nutrients that a baby needs in the first six months of life.
This is the World Breastfeeding Week, which is marked every August. Breastfeeding is an integral component of childcare. Breast milk is a natural source of nutrition and sustenance as it helps to strengthen brain power and build up a child’s immune system.
Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for new-borns, infants and young children as it improves their quality of life through its nutritional, immunological and psychological benefits. Although only women can breastfeed, it benefits the baby, families, employers, society, and the government.
The theme for this year’s celebrations is “Protect breastfeeding, a shared responsibility”. Significant progress has been made over the years in getting more mothers to breastfeed exclusively for six months and to continue it as they introduce the baby to other foods. But there is still the need for emphasis on the immense benefits of breastfeeding.
Breast milk contains the perfect nutrients that a baby needs in the first six months of life and is easily digested and efficiently used by their body since the baby’s organs are not yet mature enough to digest other foods. The World Health Organization says exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk of childhood overweight and obesity.
It also protects babies against infections and allergies and gives long-term protection against chronic and non-communicable diseases like hypertension and diabetes. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of sickness, which helps families to save money that would be spent seeking healthcare services and eases pressure on healthcare facilities.
Breast milk is free
The hormones of lactation improve a mother’s wellbeing, lowers the rate of anaemia by reducing blood loss after childbirth and during lactation and lessen the risk of osteoporosis. Every year of breastfeeding reduces the risk of developing invasive breast cancer by six per cent.
Families, too, benefit from breastfeeding; breast milk is free. The money saved can be spent on other needs. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months delays a new pregnancy, allowing longer spacing between children and, hence, better health and quality of life for the mother and her children.
There is a need for shared responsibility and collaborative efforts to promote breastfeeding. Health workers must protect, promote and support breastfeeding by educating mothers about its benefits. Mothers should be educated to disregard social and cultural nuances that discourage breastfeeding.
The government should keep enforcing The Health Act 2017, which requires all employers to support working women to breastfeed at work. The Ministry of Health has elaborate guidelines for a breastfeeding-friendly environment at the workplace. Mothers should be allowed to breastfeed in privacy and with dignity.
Breastfed children are the foundation for a future generation of healthy and productive workers.
Ms Hallam is the Country Representative of Catholic Relief Services, Kenya. [email protected].