World Breastfeeding Week 2019: The special mother-child bond with innumerable benefits
Breastfeeding is a natural process of nursing the baby & should be done in the first hour after birth.
After hours of labour, a woman becomes a mother when she gives birth to her baby. The arduous 9-month wait is now over, and the nurse carefully places the newborn on the mother's chest for skin-to-skin contact. This process is considered crucial as the first mother-child contact promotes a bond between the two. Moreover, it reduces the baby from crying and initiates breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is a natural process of nursing the baby. The baby should be breastfed in the first hour after birth which is also known as the 'golden hour'. Colostrum or the mother's first milk is the optimal nutrient and the first vaccine of the baby. Packed with energy, it helps in the growth and development of the baby. The other benefits of breastfeeding include enabling sensory and cognitive development, protecting the infant against diseases and reducing infant mortality by allowing quicker recovery from illnesses like diarrhoea and pneumonia.
Furthermore, for the first six months of the baby's lives, this form of food should be the exclusive diet i.e. no food, no water, just breast milk. However, oral rehydration salts (ORS), drops and syrups of minerals, vitamins and medicines are allowed. Post this time frame; a healthy meal should complement breastfeeding.
Despite the significance and benefits of breastfeeding, as per a report by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 7.8 crores or two in five newborns are not breastfed within their first hour, globally. India ranked 56th among the 76 countries on early initiation of breastfeeding. This trend was prevalent in low-and-middle-income countries of East Asia and the Pacific.
A Mother's Health
However, just feeding the baby and safeguarding them from probable infections is not enough. It is equally essential for the mother to eat healthy to provide the child and herself with the necessary nourishment. This habit of eating right should be initiated even before being pregnant to ensure the body has the vital micronutrients as the inability to do so can cause deficiencies like Vitamin D, B12, and iron, that is then passed on to the baby.
Hence, a breastfed child lacking Vitamin D, should either be provided with supplemental or be given sufficient sunlight exposure. Absence of this puts a child at risk of getting rickets, a disease that impacts the growth and development of bones. As per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), all breastfed infants should receive a daily supplement of 400 international units of vitamin D, beginning soon after birth. For a nursing woman to be self-sufficient to provide this essential nutrient, she would need a daily intake of over 600 international units from diet or supplements. One way of getting this amount is through a 15-minute exposure to the mid-day sun in summer, which nearly produces over 10,000 IU. AAP however, does not recommend direct sunlight for the child as it can risk them to skin cancer.
Furthermore, anaemic mothers risk their babies having weak foetal growth in the womb. The baby is also at a threat of being born prematurely and having a low birth weight. Thus, sufficient intake of iron is necessary to make haemoglobin and neurological development during early childhood. As per AAP, most children have four moths iron stored in their bodies. But as breast milk does not contain enough of it, the child should be given 1 milligram for each kilogram of body weight each day, at four months, after a doctor's consultation.
B12, another prevalent scarcity found in women adversely affects a child's development. This vitamin assists in brain development and producing healthy red blood cells. Inadequacy of it can lead to a disorder of movements like tremors, twitches, etc. Vitamin B12 is most commonly found in foods from animals, therefore breastfeeding mothers who are vegetarian or on a vegan diet should consult a doctor for possible supplements to overcome this deficiency.
Though there is no specific diet, eating healthy and balanced is the mantra for the new mothers. It means intake of fruits, green and leafy vegetables, proteins, wholegrain, nuts and seeds. The mothers should also keep themselves hydrated by drinking water or liquids like milk and fresh fruit juices.
It was earlier estimated that breastfeeding women should have an additional intake of 500 calories; however, this theory has now changed to 330 calories a day. But, this is not a rule, if they feel satisfied with their regular intake, then they can keep following a balanced diet.
Another aspect of breastfeeding is the various myths related to the simple act of feeding a child. Let's check out a few of them and how true they are:
- Eat simple food while breastfeeding- It's about eating right for breastfeeding mothers. Also, babies adapt to the mother's food preferences from the time they are in the womb.
- Exercise affects the taste of your milk- There is no proof of this; in fact, exercising is as healthy for breastfeeding mothers as anyone else.
- Don't breastfeed when sick- in some cases, mother’s medication may necessitate a break from break feeding, but not in all cases. Therefore, it is important to discuss with your doctor whether to feed or not, while you are ill.
Thus, even though breast milk is a complete food for newborns with healthy mothers, if the mother has nutritional deficiencies herself, the baby may need supplementation of a few important micronutrients.
The author is a Senior Consultant to the Medical Team at docprime.com
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