Today countries around the world start celebrating World Breastfeeding Week, which this year emphasizes the importance of breastfeeding in the first hour of life.
World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) 2007 is encouraging breastfeeding in the first hour of life because research shows that early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding for six months can save lives. This is the reason behind this year’s WBW catchphrase: “Breast Feeding the 1st Hour – Save One Million Babies”.
World Breastfeeding Week is supported by a number of global and national organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), who are keen to promote awareness about the importance of breastfeeding soon after birth because of the lifelong health benefits of receiving a mother’s first milk, colostrum, the “perfect food for every newborn”.
A 2006 study published in the journal Pediatrics suggested that 41 per cent of newborns that die in the first month of life could be saved if breastfed in the first hour of life. The WHO also says feeding colostrum in the first hour increases the likelihood babies will continue to be breastfed which gives them a head start in the “race against malnutrition“. There are 170 million underweight children in the world and 3 million of them die every year.
Colostrum is a sticky yellow-white substance yielded by the mother’s breast soon after birth. It is rich in antibodies and essential nutrients. Yet, in many cultures, ignorant of its health benefits, the custom is to throw it away. Giving newborns water or other liquids denies them a “good start in life” says the WHO, referring to the WHO Child Growth Standards and how babies fed colostrum within the first hour of being born measure up well against the standards.
Breastfeeding in the first hour or so after birth also confers benefits to the mother, such as improved lactation and less loss of blood.
This year, the theme “Breast Feeding the 1st Hour” is also linked with another phrase: “Welcome Baby Softly”. The idea of this theme is to encourage health professionals to “protect” the first hour after birth and help mother and baby bond in a natural, uniterrupted way and maximise the chance the infant will latch onto the breast and stimulate lactation.
President of the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA), Rebecca Mannel said that newborns are programmed to find the breast and will often find it by themselves when placed on the mother’s chest, skin to skin. “In the early moments after birth, babies are in a quiet, alert state and ready to learn”, said Mannel in a prepared statement.
“Babies use all five senses to explore that world. They use their eyes to memorize their mothers’ faces, their ears to associate her voice with her face, and their sense of smell to guide them in finding the breast“, she added. Newborns have a heightened sense of taste too, and this is particularly sensitive to the taste of breast milk. Mannel also said that “When mothers hold their babies skin-to-skin immediately after birth, their babies are kept warm, they regulate their heart, respiratory, and oxygen saturation rates, and they do not feel pain as acutely”. Babies who have this experience cry less, and are calmer, she said.
United Nations (UN) agencies and the WHO have recently expressed concern that breastfeeding appears to be declining in the Asia-Pacific regions and this is making it harder for babies and children to survive. They want parents to become more aware of the risks of using breast milk substitutes.
At a conference in Manila in the Phillipines last month, experts told an assembly of doctors that breastfeeding reduces child mortality and they showed figures from Cambodia, where child mortality has decreased dramatically following a vigorous and successful breastfeeding campaign.
Between 2000 and 2005 the proportion of Cambodian mothers who were breastfeeding their babies until they were at least six months old jumped from 10 to 60 per cent, according to a BBC report from their correspondent in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This compares with about 30 to 40 per cent across Asia as a whole, according to the WHO.
Child deaths in Cambodia over the same timescale dropped by over 30 per cent, which the WHO credits to the dramatic increase in breastfeeding. The BBC correspondent said that large posters showing mothers breastfeeding were commonplace and the government had set up breastfeeding friendly sites in towns and villages.
A Unicef spokesperson told the BBC that the average family in the developing world believes bottle feeding is better for the baby than breast milk. Breastfeeding is particularly protective for those babies born in towns and villages where water quality is unreliable and can make formula feeding unsafe.
Breast milk is best for your baby, and the benefits of breastfeeding extend well beyond basic nutrition. In addition to containing all the vitamins and nutrients your baby needs in the first six months of life, breast milk is packed with disease-fighting substances that protect your baby from illness.
That’s one reason the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months (although any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial). And scientific studies have shown that breastfeeding is good for your health, too.
What if scientists created a product that would protect infants from developing chronic illnesses such asasthma, diabetes, obesity, respiratory infections and ear infections? What if this product could protect infants from developing allergies? What if this same product would also protect mothers from developing breast, ovarian and other types of cancers?
What if this product could be used without any of our energy resources and could be used at all times, even in times of natural disasters? What if several billion health care dollars could be saved by using this product? What if nature creates a product that encompasses these qualities?
She has, and this product is a mother’s milk.
Healthy People is a federal initiative updated every 10 years since 1989 by the Department of Health and Human Services in cooperation with health care agencies to improve the quality of our nation’s health by producing a framework for public health prevention priorities and actions. Breastfeeding objectives are critical parts of Healthy People to improve maternal and child health. These objectives are: 75 percent of mothers breastfeeding at the time of hospital discharge, 50 percent breastfeeding at six months and 25 percent at the end of the first year.
Healthy People 2020 aims to increase these rates to 81.9 percent initiating breastfeeding, 60.6 percent breastfeeding at six months and 34.1 percent continuing at one year.
If these objectives were realized, there would be more than $4 billion saved in health care costs. Families would experience lower medical costs as a result of fewer incidences of chronic illnesses in their children. Respiratory and ear infections would seldom occur in infants.
With fewer visits to doctors, working mothers would have fewer days and hours absent from work. Mothers would lower their risks of developing breast cancer and other types of cancers. Healthy physical and emotional development in both mothers and infants would occur.
A mother’s milk has every vitamin, mineral and other nutritional element that her baby’s body needs, including many that haven’t been discovered or named yet, and it changes subtly through the meal, day and year, to match subtle changes in her baby’s requirements.
The components in breast milk are easily absorbed and utilized by the baby for normal growth and development. At no other time in life can a complete source of nourishment be contained in one food source as it is in breast milk. Breast milk is easily digested; therefore, it does not add stress to a baby’s internal systems, which still need months of growth and development.
The growth hormones, which are necessary and can only be found in breast milk, encourage and enhance a strong development in the baby’s organs, especially with the brain. All the types of nutrients that are needed to complement the human brain can only be found in breast milk.
The first milk is colostrum. It contains high amounts of immunoglobulins to compensate for the baby’s immature immune system. Colostrum should be recognized as the baby’s first vaccine. If a mother gets sick, her body will naturally produce antibodies to fight the infection.
These antibodies are then transferred through the breast milk to her baby, who will either not get sick or will have a milder case of the illness. If the baby gets ill, the mother’s body will produce antibodies for the illness and transfer the antibodies through her milk. The baby will recover faster, and continued breastfeeding can help prevent dehydration in the baby.
Employed mothers who breastfeed report fewer work days missed and fewer doctor visits with sick babies. Breastfed babies seldom get constipated or have diarrhea, ear infections or respiratory illnesses, because breast milk has all the right components in just the right amounts for infant growth and development. Breastfeeding has now been associated with lower risks of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast, uterine and cervical cancers. Most mothers with diabetes who breastfed have required less insulin.
Because lactation is the next stage of female development after pregnancy and childbirth, mothers who breastfeed experience less bleeding, a return to the prenatal body shape and some weight-loss more naturally. With the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding, the return of fertility can be delayed which allows the mother’s body time to heal before another child is conceived.
Breastfeeding, Obesity and Other Metabolic Conditions
Studies describe the link between infant feeding practices and obesity later in life. Research reports that the risk factors for obesity include bottle-feeding, a maternal body mass index (BMI) above 27 and maternal smoking during pregnancy.
The baby is in control of the amount of milk taken at each feeding. The feeling of satiety (fullness) is developed and learned, which is so necessary for future weight gain. With bottle feeding, the caretaker is in control and usually ensures that the amount in the bottle is taken. This is the beginning of force feeding and can interfere with the natural development of satiety in the baby.
The hormone leptin regulates appetite and is found in higher concentration in breastfed babies. It is now being researched as a preventive component for obesity. Research documents that children who were breastfed, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, have a lower risk of developing excess weight or obesity.
The high amounts of immunological components in breast milk enhance the maturation of the infant immune system. At birth, the infant depends on passive immunity through breast milk for protection. The transfer of antibodies through breastfeeding stimulates response in the infant’s immune system.
At no other time in life can one food source offer total nourishment and protection from pathogens, support emotional needs and complement total growth and development. These positive effects with breastfeeding are dose-dependent, and the introduction of breast milk substitutes in the first six months of life is associated with a higher risk of ill health and premature weaning.
Yes, if the United States becomes a society that encourages, supports and protects breastfeeding as the appropriate infant feeding practice, infants would receive the healthiest start in life and their birthright mother’s milk. Human nurturing a unique lifetime bonding that exists between a breastfeeding mother and her child would be encouraged, supported and protected by all professionals and agencies serving families. Images of a baby at the breasts would be acceptable and natural, and the plastic bottle would be replaced as the icon for infant care.
Exclusive breastfeeding for six months, with extended breastfeeding beyond the first year, is recognized as the appropriate infant feeding practice by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other major health care academies, and is listed as a critical strategy in reversing this trend of chronic ill health in children.
Here’s a look at some of the most important benefits breastfeeding offers you and your baby.
Breastfeeding protects your baby from a long list of illnesses
Numerous studies from around the world have shown that stomach viruses, lower respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and meningitis occur less often in breastfed babies and are less severe when they do happen. Exclusive breastfeeding (meaning no solid food, formula, or water) for at least six months seems to offer the most protection.
One large study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences showed that children who are breastfed have a 20 percent lower risk of dying between the ages of 28 days and 1 year than children who weren’t breastfed, with longer breastfeeding associated with lower risk.
The main immune factor at work here is a substance called secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) that’s present in large amounts in colostrum , the first milk your body produces for your baby. (Secretory IgA is present in lower concentrations in mature breast milk.) The substance guards against invading germs by forming a protective layer on the mucous membranes in your baby’s intestines, nose, and throat.
Your breast milk is specifically tailored to your baby. Your body responds to pathogens (virus and bacteria) that are in your body and makes secretory IgA that’s specific to those pathogens, creating protection for your baby based on whatever you’re exposed to.
Breastfeeding’s protection against illness lasts beyond your baby’s breastfeeding stage, too. Studies have shown that breastfeeding can reduce a child’s risk of developing certain childhood cancers. Scientists don’t know exactly how breast milk reduces the risk, but they think antibodies in breast milk may give a baby’s immune system a boost.
Breastfeeding may also help children avoid a host of diseases that strike later in life, such as type 1 and type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and inflammatory bowel disease. In fact, preemies given breast milk as babies are less likely to have high blood pressure by the time they’re teenagers.
For babies who aren’t breastfed, researchers have documented a link between lack of breastfeeding and later development of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Breastfeeding can protect your baby from developing allergies
Babies who are fed a formula based on cow’s milk or soy tend to have more allergic reactions than breastfed babies.
Scientists think that immune factors such as secretory IgA (only available in breast milk) help prevent allergic reactions to food by providing a layer of protection to a baby’s intestinal tract. Without this protection, inflammation can develop and the wall of the intestine can become “leaky.” This allows undigested proteins to cross the gut where they can cause an allergic reaction and other health problems.
Babies who are fed formula rather than breast milk don’t get this layer of protection, so they’re more vulnerable to inflammation, allergies, and other eventual health issues.
Breast milk helps keep your baby healthy.
- It supplies all the necessary nutrients in the proper proportions.
- It protects against allergies, sickness, and obesity.
- It protects against diseases, like diabetes and cancer.
- It protects against infections, like ear infections.
- It is easily digested – no constipation, diarrhea or upset stomach.
- Babies have healthier weights as they grow.
- Breastfed babies score higher on IQ tests.
Breast milk changes constantly to meet babies’ needs.
Breast milk is always ready and good for the environment.
- It is available wherever and whenever your baby needs it.
- It is always at the right temperature, clean and free.
- No bottles to clean.
- Breastfeeding has no waste, so it is good for the environment.
Why is Breastfeeding Important for You?
Mothers who breastfeed:
- Have a reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes and certain cancers such as breast cancer
- May find it easier to return to what they weighed before they got pregnant
- Strengthen the bond with their children
Making it Work – You Can Do It!
Some helpful hints:
- Breastfeed soon after birth and breastfeed frequently 8 to 12 times in a 24 hour period.
- Hold your baby skin-to-skin.
- Keep your baby with you in the hospital.
- Do not give a pacifier or bottle until breastfeeding is well established.
- Give only breast milk.
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