Hafsat Ibrahim and baby during the naming ceremony

Exclusive Breastfeeding as Reliable Antidote to Infant Ailments

By Hafsat Ibrahim

New mothers always experience a mixture of anxiety and excitement as their lives take on a whole new level of activity after having a baby. There is nothing more important than taking proper care of a newborn and giving them utmost attention.

Some mothers may be considering not breastfeeding their new babies for personal reasons, but I bet you, after reading this piece, all mothers will get to know the endless benefits of breastfeeding and most importantly, exclusive breastfeeding.

Adequate nutrition during infancy and early childhood is essential to ensure the growth, health and development of children to their full potential. Breastfeeding, as recommended by the World Health Organisation, is the most cost-effective way of reducing childhood morbidity such as obesity, hypertension and gastroenteritis as well as mortality.

Human milk from the breast, also called breastfeeding or chestfeeding, is a vital component of feeding a baby. It is the best source of nutrition for most infants, as it also reduces the risk of certain health conditions for both infants and mothers. Breast milk is typically given directly from the breast. There are other methods, such as pumping, storing, and offering it as a bottle, as well. Breastfeeding protects against diarrhea and common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia and may also have longer-term health benefits for the mother and child, such as reducing the risk of being overweight or obese in childhood and adolescence.

Breastfeeding provides multiple benefits, especially emotional growth for both mother and child.

According to research, breastfeeding causes a mother’s body to release hormones that reduce stress and create feelings of relaxation. For a baby, close physical contact is especially important, and breastfeeding provides the perfect opportunity to hold and comfort them. In some cases, breastfeeding can even help a mother overcome postpartum depression.

Meanwhile, the importance of exclusive breastfeeding cannot be overemphasised as breast milk contains all the nutrients an infant need in the first six months of life. This implies that the infant receives only breast milk with no other liquids or solids given, not even water, oral rehydration solution, or drops or syrups of vitamins, minerals, or medicines.

Exclusive is said to be the best form of feeding an infant and is particularly beneficial as it tends to reduce your baby’s risk for many illnesses, diseases and infections. Breastfeeding, particularly exclusively and as long as possible, may protect against middle ear, throat, and sinus infections well beyond infancy.

When a child is exclusively breast fed, their immune system is strengthened, enabling it to fight life – threatening illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhea amongst other infections.

Reports indicate the babies who are not breastfed for the first six months of life are 15 times more likely to die from pneumonia compared to newborns that are breastfed exclusively for six months after birth. (Healthy Newborn Network).

Infants who are exclusively breastfed tend to remain healthy and on a reasonable growth trajectory.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that around 220,000 children could be saved every year with exclusive breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a healthier than formula feeding; it contains all necessary nutrients for a baby and protects against several infections and diseases.

However, owing to certain circumstances, mothers are unable to breastfeed, so they wish to express their milk because it is the only opportunity for the infant to have the human milk. Expressing is simply a way of taking milk from the breast without the baby suckling and this can be achieved either by the hand or manual pump or electric pump.

Breast milk is unique in its physical structure and types and concentrations of protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals, enzymes, hormones, growth factors, host resistance factors, inducers and modulators of the immune system, and anti-inflammatory agents. There are three phases of milk namely, colostrum, transitional milk and mature milk each with distinct characteristics.

The first milk that is synthesised by the breast for the baby right after birth is thick, yellow-coloured fluid called colostrum. The yellow colour is owing to the high concentration of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A which is required for the protection against infection and for early retinal development. It has also been stated that the amount of colostrum obtained is limited but it rich in nutrients and substances that the infant needs in the first days of life. The “liquid gold” is rich in proteins, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and immunoglobulins.

It should be noted that it protects the infant’s immune system by identifying and destroying foreign objects such as bacteria and viruses. Another advantage of colostrum is that the mother will have less blood loss because the uterine contracts as the baby suckle. Furthermore, colostrum also contains white cells which help to prevent infection in the infant, and it also consists of lactose which prevents hypoglycemia and at the same time helps the newborn to pass meconium. This in turn, promotes the excretion of bilirubin.

The health benefits of exclusive breastfeeding to infants especially in developing countries should not be underrated. Breastfeeding is well recognised as the best food source for infants. Breastfeeding is the safest, less allergic and best infant feeding method because it has nutritional value.

Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond.