Breastfeeding is the first form of food introduced to any child after they are brought into this world. The word nutrition is derived from ‘nutricus’ which means to ‘suckle at the breast’. Breast milk is the natural food for the infant. Successful breastfeeding is an important child rearing skill to be learnt and practiced. The infant should be put to breast within half an hour after normal delivery and within four hours after caesarian sections. Prelacteal foods like honey, distilled water or glucose should not be given. These foods will satisfy the thirst and will reduce the vigor to suck and may lead to diarrhea and helminthic infestation. Breast feeding can be initiated even when the mother is sedated or on IV fluids. Sucking reflex is most active at birth.
Breastfeeding is not only beneficial to the infant but also to the mother. The advantages of breastfeeding can be considered under nutritional, immunological, psychological, economical and physiological and other factors.
Breastfeeding benefits the infant in many ways; infant’s jaw is more fully developed and teeth are less crowded as he works harder to extract mother’s milk, Microbiologically it is sterile and less danger of contamination and gastrointestinal problems, Mortality rate is lower in children who are breastfed, Reduced risk for otitis,severe lower respiratory tract infections and asthma, Low danger of incorrect formula and overfeeding, Reduced chances of allergic reactions,as human milk protein do not cause allergies, Lower rate of sudden infant death or cot death, as infant is not sensitive to human milk and less possibility of aspiration following regurgitation or higher vitamin E content in human milk that protects the membrane in the lungs, Less renal solute load as there is less urea and sodium to excrete, Less colic as fats and proteins in human milk are more easily digested and less likely to create gastric and intestinal distress, Human milk is always fresh and at the right temperature, It has optimum fluidity. And it has many other advantages.
Similarly there are many advantages of breastfeeding to the mother; Breastfeeding creates strong bonding with infant.Breastfeeding is an important birth control method, Prolactin which stimulates milk production,decreases the synthesis of ovarian hormones, It is the most cost effective method of family planning, It reduces postpartum bleeding and delays the menstrual cycle, When the mother feeds the infant,the uterus comes back to normal size and arrests bleeding due to the secretion of oxytocin, breastfeeding enables the mother to shed extra weight accumulated during pregnancy under the effect of various hormones. It is convenient to administer for the mother at any place and time. It saves time, money and energy, and the risk of breast and ovarian cancer is higher in women who have not breastfed their children. It decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes. By breastfeeding, the requirement of insulin decreases for a diabetic mother. In a mother there is a sense of calm and satisfaction which favors the production of required hormones. It improves bone density and decreases the risk of fractures, it also decreases the risk of postpartum depression, enhances self-esteem in the maternal role.
During the first two or three days after delivery, thick and yellowish fluid is secreted from the mammary gland. This differs from the mature milk and is called colostrum. It is secreted in small quantities of about 10-40ml. It is rich in protein. The total fat content of colostrum is less than mature milk. It has more vitamin A and K. The levels of niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin and riboflavin are also low. Vitamin C is secreted at about the same level as in mature milk. It is the first immunization for infants. It also contains antibodies against viral diseases such as smallpox, polio, measles and influenza. It contains large quantities of protective substances and enhances the development and maturation of the baby’s gastrointestinal tract. It helps pass the baby his/her first stool and help in the excretion of excess bilirubin and prevent jaundice.
During the next two weeks, the milk increases in quantity and changes in appearance and composition. This is called transition milk. The immunoglobulin and protein content decreases while the fat and sugar content increases.
Exclusive breast feeding of colostrum and transition milk minimizes infection related to neonatal deaths. The composition of milk changes even during the length of a single feed to exactly suit the needs of a particular baby.
This article is written and submitted to The E Today by Shrushti Mehta.
We thank her for her research and analysis and hope to see the awarenesses about health and nutrition being spread ahead to larger mass of our citizens.