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Santosh Jain Passi* / Vandana Sabharwal***

Breastmilk is natural and perfect food for the baby. WHO recommends that all infants should be fed exclusively on breastmilk until they are six months of age and continued to be breastfed till two years or beyond along with the introduction of adequate complementary foods after six months of age. Breastmilk provides uniquely appropriate concentrations of almost all the nutrients for infants at the time when the growth and development rates are maximal. Mother’s milk comprises of White Blood Cells (leucocytes), macrophages and epithelial cells; lipids (triacylgycerols, free fatty acids, phospholipids, sterols, hydrocarbons and fat soluble vitamins); carbohydrates (lactose, galactose, glucose, oligosaccharides, and glycoproteins); protein (casein, ±-lactalbumin, lactoferrin, immunoglobins like SlgA and others, lysozymes, enzymes, harmones and growth factors); non-protein nitrogenous compounds (urea, creatine, creatinine, uric acid, amino acids including glutamine, nucleic acid, nucleotides and polyamines), water soluble vitamins, macronutrient elements, trace elements and various non nutritional components (anti-microbial factors, digestive enzymes and growth modulators) that promote the infant’s growth and development.

In comparison to formula milk or top feeding is associated with lower morbidity and mortality at all ages. Recent child survival data have reported that promotion of exclusive breastfeeding for first six months and continued breastfeeding for 6 - 11 months is the single most effective intervention that reduces under-5 child mortality by 13 - 15 per cent. In another study, it is reported that 16 per cent of neonatal deaths could be averted if all infants were breastfed from the first day of childbirth and 22 per cent if breastfeeding was started within the first hour itself. Breastfeeding is protective against several infections including diarrhoea and respiratory infections, in addition to many chronic problems like hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases and others. Breastfed babies have shown to have a higher Intelligence Quotient. It enhances emotional bond between the child and the mother, provides warmth, love, affection and is thus, much more than just a food. Breastmilk is clean, free from bacteria and has anti-infective factors as well as it is readily available to the baby when she/he wants, needs no preparation and is at right temperature. In addition to this, it is economical and free from contamination.

Breastfeeding has many health benefits for the mother too. It reduces anemia due to reduction in postpartum bleeding. Obesity is less common among nursing mothers as it helps the mother to regain her normal figure. It is protective against breast and ovarian cancers. Exclusive breastfeeding has contraceptive effect. Mothers who exclusively breastfeed are better adjusted with their babies as far as rearing and behavioural adjustments are concerned. Breastfeeding is beneficial for the society as it lowers health care cost by reducing illness among children and thus, reduces the financial strain on the family.

It is important to understand that the production of breast milk is based on demand and supply. The more the mother feeds, the more the supply of milk, which means that a mother should feed the baby on demand, rather than on a schedule. Also, babies have growth spurts. So, a baby who was being fed every three hours might suddenly demand to be fed every hour. It does not mean that the supply of milk is less, but that the baby is experiencing growth spurts.

This World Breastfeeding Week, health organisations are emphasising on “the need to consider breastfeeding as a life-saving intervention before and after emergencies.” Periods when there is a chance of a disease spreading far and wide (e.g., an epidemic or a pandemic) is classified by the WHO as an emergency. Considering the incidences of swine flu this year, breastfeeding has taken on that much more importance Hence like mother’s love there is no substitute for mother’s milk. Therefore, we need to Promote and support Breastfeeding at all levels.

*Associate Professor in Nutrition,

**Research Scholar, Institute of Home Economics, (University of Delhi)

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of PIB


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