There have been several publications of research that strongly advocate exclusive breast feeding. Not that this is ground breaking news per say because everyone generally knows about the usefulness of breast feeding. Breast milk is synonymous with baby food since they are not capable of digesting foods in more solid forms. Howbeit, medical experts have long established the fact that the issue of breastfeeding is primarily about its duration and the how it should not be done. The term exclusive breastfeeding is reserved for solely feeding a newborn baby with breast milk for the first six months of life exclusively. This means that no other additional feeds and not even water should be given to the child. And it is further recommended that the child continues with breast milk augmentation till the age of 2 years. Here are some of the proven benefits of breastfeeding:
– It promotes mother and child bonding
– Breast milk contains the perfect combinations of all the nutrients an infant requires
– Breast milk contains protective agents (antibodies) which help to fight off infections in the baby, and can even be protective against diarrhea
The multi-faceted superiority of breast milk is especially encapsulated in the first portion milk secreted from the breast soon after birth called Colostrum. It is small in quantity but contains a concentrated built in dose of defence factors and well balanced supply of amino-acids, minerals and vitamins. Surprisingly, this choice part of the breast milk is often misconstrued to be ‘bad milk’ so many new mothers are often wrongly advised to discard it for not being good enough.
Breast milk is actually 90% water so it is totally unnecessary to feed the baby with water because contrary to what many mothers think, the baby is not thirsty! (I am always puzzled when some mothers give me that explanation because I am yet to understand how they decisively come to the conclusion that the baby is thirty anyways? Maybe we should save that analogy for another time). In fact, because the infant’s digestive system is still in its babyhood state, it cannot handle the combination of different types of feeds. I have met many well-meaning mothers who freely feed their newborns with orange juice while they eat the roughage themselves, to boost the baby’s immunity they say. This ‘unselfish’ act may be admirable but it is a thoughtless gesture with possible hazardous effects. For now, the only medically approved short course of exclusively breast feeding the baby for only two months is in HIV-infected patients to limit the mother-to-child transmission; and the current teaching is a stern warning to stop abruptly and not mix the breast milk with infant formula feeding.
UPDATE: In April 2012, the World Health Organisation, WHO, made an update to the PMTCT Protocol called Option B+. The abrupt cessation of breastfeeding is no longer recommended. Mothers should be encouraged to wean their babies off breast milk over a few days to a month. LEARN MORE DETAILS HERE
The increasingly common trend is that more of our working class mothers only breast feed for barely three months (about enough time for their maternity leave). Understandably, the living conditions are generally hard and you really need to keep your job because it is rather difficult to get a new one, but there are options. The simple method practiced here is to extract the milk with a breast pump and store in a flask to feed the baby when necessary. Weighing this against the back drop of poor hygiene and handling techniques which might increase the likelihood of infections; it does not make it an easy option in addition to the reports that the actual process of extracting the milk with the breast pump can be a painful experience. So the process demands a lot of dedication and hard work.
Meanwhile for this category of ladies, we can look at the bright side of it: did you know that exclusive breastfeeding also gives you a free period of family planning? By way of acting as an incentive, a restaurant in London made news earlier this year by serving breast milk ice cream. On reading the BBC report on Baby Gaga though, I get the impression that the incentive is actually two way – the sweetness of the ice cream and the alternate source of income (for the women only). Anyway, a more practical offer back home is the new offer by the Lagos State Government to establish crèches in the various state ministries as part of its efforts to boost exclusive breast feeding. It gets even juicer as the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor, Dr. Yewande Adeshina says the private sector will be supported in the establishment of crèches. We can only hope this plan materializes as it will undoubtedly improve our dismal 13% rate of exclusive breastfeeding which is at a decline from its 17% rate as at 2003, according to the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) done last in 2008.