IMPORTANCE OF EXCLUSIVE BREASTFEEDING ON INFANTS IN CALABAR
Health and nutrition during early childhood is a strong reflection of a country’s level of development (UNESCO (2012). For the individual, adequate nutrition ensures proper growth and physical development, high reproductive level and capability of immune system from conception to adulthood (David 2002).
Breastfeeding should be acknowledged as the biologic norm for infant feeding. It is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. Exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) refers to the proportion of infants 0–6 months of age, which are fed exclusively with breast milk. Specifically it is defined as no other food or drink, not even water, except breast milk (including milk from a milk bank or wet nurse) for the first 6 months of life, but allows the infant to receive ORS, drops and syrups (vitamins, minerals and medicines).
If breastfeeding were scaled up to near universal levels, about 820 000 child lives would be saved every year. Globally, only 40% of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed (W.H.O, 2017). World Health Organization actively promotes breastfeeding as the best source of nourishment for infants and young children.
For infants to survive, grow and develop properly they require the right proportion of nutrients. Breast milk is rich in nutrients and anti-bodies and contains the right quantities of fat, sugar, water and protein. These nutrients are major pre-requisites to the health and survival of the baby. When a child is exclusively breast fed, their immune system is strengthened, enabling it to withstand life-threatening illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhoea amongst other infections. In fact, previous reports indicate that babies who are not breast fed for the first six months of life are 15 times more likely to die from Pneumonia compared to newborns that are breast fed exclusively for six months after birth.
Benefits of Breastfeeding.
There is an increasing evidence that exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) up to six-month of age has profound biological effects and important consequences on health, nutritional outcomes, and development of each child’s full human potential. Hence Exclusive Breastfeeding has an extraordinary range of benefits.
The immunological properties of breast milk contribute to ensuring adequate nutritional status, proper growth and develop morbidity prevention capacity in child’s body. It provides the ideal nutrition for infants.
It has profound impact on a child’s survival, health, and development (Motee and Jeewon, 2014). Breast milk provides all of the nutrients an infant needs for growth for the first six months, and no other liquids or food are needed.
It has a nearly perfect mixture of vitamins, protein and fat, hence everything the baby needs to grow. And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula (W.H.O, 2009).
In addition, breast milk carries antibodies from the mother that help combat diseases (Tessa et’al, 2012).
The act of breastfeeding itself stimulates proper growth of the mouth and jaw, and secretion of hormones for digestion and satiety.
Breastfeeding creates a special bond between mother-to-baby and the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact between the mother and child during breastfeeding has positive repercussions for life, in terms of stimulation, behavior, speech, sense of wellbeing and security and how the child relates to other people.
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Breastfeeding also lowers the risk of chronic conditions later in life, such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, childhood asthma and childhood leukaemias. Also lowers baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies (Diane and Rachelle, 2011). By extension, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer or no cases of ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood, hence, they do better on intelligence and behaviour tests into adulthood than formula-fed babies (Elizabeth et’al, 2011). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
What’s more, the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact all help mother-to-child bond and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become obese as compared to formula-fed ones. Breastfeeding also contributes to maternal health immediately after the delivery because it helps reduce the risk of post-partum haemorrhage. In the short term, breastfeeding delays the return to fertility and in the long term, it reduces type 2 diabetes and breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. Studies have also found an association between early cessation of breastfeeding and post natal depression in mothers. In addition, EBF substantially reduces the risk of morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases by eliminating the chances of contamination from formula milk or other fluids and foods (Khan and Mofizul, 2017).
Conclusively, studies have shown that exclusive breastfeeding is paramount for infants’ growth, stability, survival, and greatly contribute to their high intelligence quotient (IQ) among others.
There is a clear disparity between an infant who was fed exclusively with human breastmilk from the very first six months of life compared to another who was fed with preformed formula foods. These benefits can be outlined thus;
- Protection against infection and childhood malnutrition.
- Contains right amount of nutrients and water.
- Protection of baby against diarrhea.
- Strengthens mother-child bonding.
- Economical and readily available.
- Aids in child spacing and Protects the mother against cancers.
Therefore, nursing mothers are to be encouraged to adopt the habit of exclusive breastfeeding by giving them necessary support they require from the family such as balanced diet, sabbatical leave from stressful engagement, and love from the husband, just to mention a few.
However, there are underlying factors that can oppose the choice of adopting exclusive breastfeeding such as:
In infants who have special health problems such as galactosemia, maple syrup urine disease and phenylketonuria.
In cases where mothers have active untreated tuberculosis disease or are human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I– or II–positive.
Breastfeeding may not be in the best interest of the baby when breastfeeding mothers have herpes simplex lesions on a breast (infant may feed from other breast if it is free from any lesions).
In situations where the mother is using drugs of abuse.
In certain circumstances where mothers are receiving diagnostic or therapeutic radioactive isotopes, antimetabolites or chemotherapeutic agents, small number of other medications or who had been exposed to radioactive materials. They should not breastfeed until these substances are cleared from the breast milk.
In infants born to mothers who are HIV infected, breastfeeding is discouraged owing to the risk of transmission of HIV to the infant through human milk.
This article emphasizes the WHO recommendation regarding the public health benefit of exclusive breastfeeding ( EBF) in the first 6 months of birth. Further initiatives to promote EBF in general should be encouraged, and ensure sensitization program to those women who are not practicing EBF, in particular.
Writer: Chima Ifesinachi Daniel