Breastfeeding: Ideal for infants

Dr Ravinder K Gupta, Dr Ariba Afeeh
Breastfeeding is an unequaled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. Breast milk is the natural first food for babies, it provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year of life. Breastfeeding is a natural process through which a mother provides nutrition to her baby. This practice exists since the time of human evolution. Though people’s attitude toward breastfeeding has changed drastically over the past few decades, the function of breastfeeding has remained the same. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of respiratory tract infections and diarrohea, both in developing and developed countries. Other benefits include lower risks of asthma, food allergies, type 1 diabetes, and Leukemia. It leads to positive development and IQ of children, which thereby imparts better education, performance in the workplace, and lifetime earnings. Breastfeeding contributes to the health and well-being of mothers; it helps to space children, increases family and national resources, is a secure way of feeding, and is safe for the environment. Benefits for the mother include less blood loss following delivery, better uterus shrinkage, and less postpartum depression. Long-term benefits for the mother include decreased risk of Breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Breastfeeding contributes to the health andwell-being of mothers; it helps to space children, increases family and national resources, is a secure way of feeding, and is safe for the environment. A strong emotional bond facilitates the successful prolongation of breastfeeding. Milk production occurs in stages, the first of which usually begins before the birth of the infant. The first milk is colostrum and is available after labor. Occasionally, there is pre-colostrum before the postpartum stage. Colostrum is high in protein, sodium, and immunoglobulins and is low in lactose. After 30 to 40 hours postpartum, the milk composition is characterized by an increase in lactose content; dilution of other constituents occurs due to increased milk volume. Maintenance of lactation follows an autonomous pattern wherein infant suckling and emptying of the breast are the main factors regulating the milk flow. Establishing smooth bonding between the breastfeeding parent and the neonate is essential for successful breastfeeding.
Despite these clear benefits, research has found that returning to work without adequate support mechanisms can hamper optimal breastfeeding practices. Breastfeeding support is therefore essential for the health and development of children, for mothers and society. The provision of workplace breastfeeding rooms, paid nursing breaks and an enabling breastfeeding environment and culture are low-cost interventions that can contribute to improve breastfeeding, job productivity and employee retention. Governments, businesses, civil society and families can work together to protect and facilitate this practice to protect women’s health and ensure that children are able to survive and thrive.. It is advised that measures aimed at providing breastfeeding support (and other family-friendly policies) in the workplace should go beyond simple infrastructure changes to include, for example, awareness raising and employment protection, and non-discrimination.
On a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is the recommended way of feeding infants, followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to two years or beyond.
World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from 1 to 7 August to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. It commemorates the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990 by government policymakers, WHO, UNICEF and other organizations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
Back in time, women used to comfortably lactate in public, but now it seems to be an uphill task. To remove the barriers women face, action has to take place at home, health facilities and at workplaces. Therefore, everyone has a role to play.
This year’s theme “Let’s make breastfeeding and work, work!” will focus on breastfeeding and work, providing a strategic opportunity to advocate for essential maternity rights that support breastfeeding.
Key messages
* Making breastfeeding at work, work, makes societies work! Breastfeeding provides vital health and nutritional benefits for children with positive lifelong impacts, building healthier populations – and workforces – for the future.
* Women shouldn’t have to choose between breastfeeding their children and their jobs. Breastfeeding support is possible regardless of workplace, sector, or contract type.
* Effective maternity protections improve children’s and women’s health and increase breastfeeding. And yet, at present, more than half a billion working women lack access to vital maternity provisions; many more find themselves unsupported when they go back to work.
* All women everywhere – no matter their work – should have
* At least 18 weeks, preferably more than 6 months, paid maternity leave;
* Paid time off for breastfeeding or expressing milk upon returning to work;
* Flexible return to work options.
Policymakers can make breastfeeding and work, work by
* Legislating at least 18 weeks, preferably more than 6 months, of paid maternity leave
* Ensuring employers provide paid time off and a dedicated space for breastfeeding or expressing milk after this period
* Ensuring all women have access to maternity entitlements, including those in the informal sector or on limited contracts
* Tackling employment-related discrimination against women, including during and after pregnancy and birth
(The authors are from Department of Pediatrics Acharya Shri Chander College of Medical Sciences (ASCOMS) Jammu)