Cow milk is being believed to be one of the superfoods for human beings, but in the initial stage of human life, human milk is superior to any other animal milk or any other food. The newborn needs only mother milk for the first six months, after six months complementary food should be introduced but it is only to complement the breast milk of the mother.
The World Health Organization(WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and up to two years or beyond along with complementary food. Breastfeeding has tremendous benefits for children and mothers too. To raise awareness among the general population, every year, the first week of august (1st -7th) is celebrated as breastfeeding week.
Inadequate breastfeeding is one of the major reasons for increasing infant mortality rate and undernutrition among children, and undernutrition severely affects the survival, overall health, growth, and development of the children. Adequate breastfeeding reduces the rate of infant and child mortality rates. It provides all the vital nutrients which are ideal for a child.
Early initiation of breastfeeding (within 1hour) is very important. The first milk which is a thick yellowish fluid called colostrum is a miracle food for the newborn. The tradition of giving pre-lacteal (the food which is given to newborn before starting breastfeeding) to the child should be discouraged as the pre-lacteal food like honey, animal milk, water leads diarrhea and other infections to the newborn; it deprives the child of colostrum and delays breastfeeding.
The magic food colostrum is highly nutritious and the following advantages-
A) Anti-Infective properties.
B) First natural immunization to the baby.
C) Prevent the development of infections and allergies.
D) Contains growth factor.
E) Rich in vitamin A.
F) Contains mild laxative to the gut which helps to remove the excess bilirubin from the infant body.
After a few days, the “mature milk” comes out after childbirth. This quantity of the milk becomes more and the beast of the mother becomes full, hard, and heavy. The mature milk should be preferred over other formula feed or other animal milk.
So, why it is recommended to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months?
And why it should be preferred over other foods?
To find the answer let’s compare breast milk with animal milk and formula feed.
1) Bacterial infection – in breast milk the chances are none, in animal milk is likely to be present, in formula milk it is likely to be present.
2) Anti-infective factors (factors that protect the child from infections) are in breast milk it is present, in animal milk it is absent, in formula feed it is absent.
3) Growth factor– in breast milk it is present, in animal milk it is absent, in formula feed it is absent.
4) Protein– in breast milk protein is incorrect amount easy to digest, in animal milk it is too much difficult to digest and partly corrected, in formula feed it is partially corrected.
5)Fat–Enough essential fatty acids are present and to digest it lipase is present in breast milk, animal milk lacks essential fatty acid and has no lipase, formula feed also lacks essential fatty acid and lipase.
6) Iron– in breast milk it is in small amount and well absorbed, in animal milk, it is in small amount but not well absorbed, in formula feed, it is extra added and not well absorbed.
7) Vitamins– in breast milk it is enough that needed by the infant, in animal milk Vitamin A and C are not insufficient amounts.
8) Water-in breast milk the content is enough, in animal milk, it is extra, in formula feed it may need extra. From the comparison, we can understand why mother’s milk is preferred over any other milk.
Benefits to the mother-
A) Have you ever thought you can lose weight by breastfeeding your child? Yes, when a woman breastfeeds her child she loses extra weight which she gains during pregnancy, it prevents the chances of lifestyle diseases like type 2 diabetes, and other lifestyle diseases or disorders.
B) Breast is feeding is convenient as to breastfeed the mother doesn’t need extra utensils or any other goods.
C) Breastfeeding delays postpartum bleeding and associated anemia.
D) Tends to delay the next pregnancy and helps parents to space their children.
E) Breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Though breastfeeding is important there are many challenges that a mother faces while breastfeeding. There are many myths and taboos are associated with breastfeeding in our society which creates obstacles to follow the guidelines. Some examples are like if a woman has small breast size it is believed that she cannot produce enough milk but the fact is every mother can produce milk irrespective of their breast size.
Stress is one of the major reasons for which a mother cannot release milk besides having enough milk produced, the society and family members need to very much supportive to make the exclusive breastfeeding successful.
Author: Ritumoni Saha (Dietitian)