According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an essential part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. Review of evidence has shown that, on a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for six months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter, infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.
Dr Stephenson Musiime, the chief consultant paediatrician at Glamerc Polyclinic, says that breast milk has all the nutrients needed by the baby and it protects the baby from illnesses.
He explains that breast milk has all the components that are good for the brain of the baby, it is also easily digested, free of charge, 100 per cent sterile, does not require logistics for preparation, and promotes bonding between mother and child, among other perks.
Musiime warns mothers against feeding babies on cow’s milk before six months as it is difficult for the baby to digest. The nutrients in cow’s milk are too high for the baby’s kidney to handle. Cow’s milk also causes allergy and anaemia.
“Breastfeeding contributes to the health and well-being of mothers; it helps to space children, reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer, increases family and national resources, is a secure way of feeding and is safe for the environment,” says WHO.
Rene Tabaro, a senior nutritionist and dietician at Oshen-King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, says that the Ministry of Health suggests that breastfeeding should be done by all mothers because breast milk contains nutrients a baby needs for growth, both in quality and quantity, like proteins, vitamins, minerals salts, lipids among others.
He adds that breast milk is healthy, has no toxins or preservatives and the temperature is normal. It is cheap, compared to cow’s milk or formula, and available.
“Mothers should always breastfeed on babies’ demand, as it protects the baby. Breast milk is full of live elements, including stem cells, white blood cells and beneficial bacteria, as well as other bio active components, such as antibodies, enzymes and hormones, which all help fight infection, prevent disease, and contribute to normal healthy development. Breastfeeding promotes healthy weight gain and helps prevent childhood obesity,” Tabaro notes.
WHAT TO TAKE NOTE OF
Tabaro says that in order to increase breast milk production, the mother should put the baby on the breast more often, have a balanced diet with enough fluids like water, juice, porridge, among others.
Tabaro says that in order to avoid breast milk contamination, mothers should keep proper hygiene; their bodies, clothes and the area around the nipple should be clean. Before breastfeeding, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with clean water and soap.
He urges breastfeeding mothers to be stable, get enough care and support from their husbands or relatives, and avoid stress. Exclusive breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health, and if it was scaled up to near-universal levels, about 820,000 children’s lives would be saved every year, a pretty compelling argument.
Experts say that breast milk could help prevent obesity, makes vaccines more effective, could make a baby smarter, and causes fewer stomach upsets like diarrhoea and constipation than formula. This is because breast milk is so easy for the baby’s body to break down. It reduces the risk of viruses, urinary tract infections, inflammatory bowel disease, gastroenteritis, ear infections, and respiratory infections, and protects against allergies and eczema.
According to Mayo Clinic, various factors can cause low milk supply during breastfeeding, such as waiting too long to start breastfeeding, not breastfeeding often, supplementing breastfeeding, an ineffective latch, and use of certain medications. Sometime, previous breast surgery affects milk production.
Other factors that can affect milk production include premature birth, maternal obesity, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, and poorly controlled insulin-dependent diabetes. Although many women worry about low milk supply, insufficient breast milk production is rare. Most women make one-third more breast milk than their babies typically drink, Mayo Clinic states.