Breastfeeding has benefits for both the baby and the mother. The benefits are so significant that most organizations responsible for maternity and childcare in most countries recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and continued breastfeeding through 12 months or more. Breast milk is species-specific, made uniquely and specifically for the human infant. Proteins, minerals, and nutrients are present in amounts, form, and ratio which can be easily absorbed, digested and handled by the rapidly maturing organs like kidneys, stomach and blood of the infant. Cholesterol and docosahexaenoic acid have been shown to play a role in the development of the central nervous system development and may contribute to the enhanced intelligence quotient measurements reported in breastfed infants. Dr Sudeshna Ray, Consultant & Co-ordinator, Obstetrics, and Gynaecology at Jaslok Hospital share how mother’s milk works best for the child.
Breast milk with large amounts of immunologically active contents protects infants against some life-threatening infections like ear infections (otitis media) croup, pneumonia, and gastrointestinal infections, There is also evidence that breastfeeding provides protection against some non-infectious illnesses such as asthmatic wheezing, eczema, childhood lymphoma, insulin-dependent childhood-onset diabetes, and obesity in children who are exclusively breastfed for the first 4 to 6 months of life.
Cognitive and psychological benefits for breastfed infants have been suggested, including those for developmental performance, accurate vision, performance in school and performance on standardized and intelligence quotient tests. Exclusive breastfeeding helps in reducing the infant mortality rate due to common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea or pneumonia, a much-needed target for developing countries. Infant mortality rate (IMR) of India has reduced by 42 per cent over 11 years from 57 per 1,000 live births in 2006 to 33 in 2017, as per the latest government data released on May 30, 2019. Madhya Pradesh recorded the number of deaths of children younger than one (IMR 47) in 2017, followed by Assam (44) and Arunachal Pradesh (42), among Indian states. Breastfeeding plays an important role in reducing IMR.
According to WHO and UNICEF, a newborn should be fed with breast milk exclusively for 6 months and should continue up to 2 years. Also as per the July 2018 report. Capture the Moment by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) delaying breastfeeding after birth can be life-threatening for the baby. To enable the mothers to establish and sustain exclusive breastfeeding for six months, it is recommended to initiate breastfeeding within the first few hours of life and to make sure that the infant only receives breast milk without any additional food or drink, not even water, there should be no usage of bottles and pacifiers.
Potential benefits to the mother include improved postpartum recovery, less postnatal depression, a lower incidence of subsequent obesity, a decreased risk of osteoporosis, increased spacing between births, lower cost of providing adequate infant nutrition, and reduced incidence of both breast and ovarian cancers.