Underscoring the importance and benefits of breastfeeding,gynaecologists,lactation consultants,dieticians and experts from various fields of medicine in the city observed World Breastfeeding Week from August 1 to 7. The theme for this year was breastfeeding support and peer counselling. World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. It is well-known that breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for both the baby and the mother. In addition,studies have consistently shown that the benefits of breastfeeding last well into adulthood, said Rashmi Poduval,lactation consultant at King Edward Memorial Hospital and Sahyadri Hospital.
She said that breastfeeding offers tremendous emotional benefits for mothers and the physical act of nursing creates a special closeness between mother and child. Physical touch and cuddling makes the infant secure and comforted. Mothers benefit from this closeness too as it boosts the levels of oxytocin in their bodies,which has a calming effect and produces warm feelings of love and protection towards the child, said Poduval. She added that the hormonal changes in the course of nursing prevents mothers from sinking into postpartum depression.
Talking about the nutritional value of breast milk,Dr Umesh Vaidya,Head,Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of KEM Hospital,said it is a complex,living,biological fluid which contains just the right amounts of nutrients. It is rich in immunoglobulins,enzymes,hormones,growth factors and macrophages. Babies learn to regulate temperature and maintain stable breathing and heart rate while being breastfed, he said,adding that lactose in human milk enhances calcium absorption and metabolises into galactose and glucose,which supplies energy to the infants growing brain.
Listing some of the short-term benefits for the childs health,doctors say being fed on breast milk protects against morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases. Breastfed babies have a decreased chance of developing respiratory and ear infections,allergies,atopic diseases and asthma. It also reduces the risk of urinary tract infections,diarrhea and gastrointestinal reflux. Since breastfed babies learn to control how much they eat,they are leaner than formula-fed infants.
Experts at UNICEF recommend that they should begin to nurse the newborn within an hour of birth. For the first few days after childbirth,mothers produce a unique type of milk called colostrum. It is thick and yellowish,full of proteins,vitamins and minerals. Dieticians also recommend that new mothers,who are keen to shed the extra weight gained during pregnancy,should focus on breastfeeding. On an average,milk production in the mothers body consumes 200 to 500 calories per day.
According to Dr Geeta Dharmatti,President of the Pune Chapter of Indian Dietetic Association,breastfeeding protects mothers from diabetes and cancer. Nursing mothers have been shown to maintain lower blood sugar levels than those who dont nurse their child at all. Mothers with Type 1 diabetes who breastfeed require lesser doses of insulin because of reduced sugar levels. Studies also say that nursing a child lowers the risk of Type 2 diabetes among women, she says.