Exclusive breastfeeding is one of the essential actions for infant development and survival. When a mother breastfeeds sufficiently, she safe lives because optimal breastfeeding has been estimated to prevent about 12% of all under-five mortality.
Breast milk gives infants all the nutrients and energy they need, it’s safe and it contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses, speeds up recovery during illness, and helps space births.
What is exclusive breastfeeding and why is it recommended for the first six months?
Exclusive breastfeeding means that the infant receives only breast milk. No additional liquids or solids are given, not even water except oral rehydration solution, or drops/syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines.
Exclusive breastfeeding was globally rated in infants less than six years old as 36% between 2006- 2013. This percentage is even low in the Western Pacific, where less than one out of three infants less than six months old is exclusively breastfed.
Breastfeeding programmes should highlight early initiation, exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and continuation through twenty-four months. This has particular significance for sub-Saharan Africa, where neonatal and infant mortality rates are highest.
Benefit of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding has many health benefits for both the mother and infant.
- Breast milk provides ideal nutritional value for babies
Breast milk contains all the essential nutrients a baby needs for the first six months of life, in all the right proportions. Its composition even changes according to the baby’s changing needs, especially during the first month of life. During the first days after birth, the mother’s breasts produce a thick and yellowish fluid called colostrum which is high in protein, low in sugar, and loaded with beneficial compounds. It’s a wonder food and not replaceable by baby formula.
- Breast milk contains essential antibodies
Breast milk is loaded with antibodies that help infant fight off microbial infections, which is critical to the newly born. This particularly applies to colostrum, the first milk. Colostrum provides high amounts of immunoglobulin A, as well as several other antibodies. When the mother is exposed to viruses or bacteria, they start producing antibodies that then go into the milk.
- Breast milk promotes baby’s healthy weight
Breastfeeding promotes healthy weight gain and helps prevent childhood obesity. A Trusted study source mentioned that breastfeeding for longer than four months had a significant reduction in the chances of a baby been obese. This may be due to the development of different gut bacteria.
- Breastfeeding may make children smarter
Breastfeeding may help baby champion those tests. Studies suggest there may be a difference in brain development between breastfed and formula-fed babies.
This difference may be due to the physical intimacy, touch, and eye connection associated with breastfeeding as well as nutrient content.
- Breastfeeding may reduce disease risk
It may reduce your baby’s risk for many illnesses and diseases, including middle ear infections, respiratory tract infections, colds and infections, intestinal tissue damage, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), allergic diseases, bowel diseases, diabetes, childhood leukaemia etc.
Benefits of breastfeeding to mothers,
The benefits of breastfeeding don’t only extend to babies; it also has a significant impact on breastfeeding mothers.
- It lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer
- Helps lose pregnancy weight. Studies have shown that milk production burns about 300 to 500 calories a day, nursing mothers tend to have an easier time losing pregnancy weight in a healthy way that is, slowly and without dieting.
- Delays menstruation, Breastfeeding your baby around the clock no bottles or formula will delay ovulation, which means delayed menstruation.
- Saves you money, because breastfeeding is free
WHO recommendations on exclusively breastfeeding
Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.
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.