The British royal grandchild was born, and all of Britain was eagerly awaiting his arrival if the buzz in local media is to be believed. In the midst of royal statistics, there was what seemed like an incongruous headline in a British paper, “Royal baby: to breastfeed or not to breastfeed?” A little additional reading reveals that it is not so out of place after all. Across the world, the significant decrease in exclusive breastfeeding rates is becoming a cause for concern. It is hoped that those in the spotlight, like the Duchess of Cambridge, will adopt breastfeeding and thereby encourage more young mothers to ensure that for the first six months of life, their children consume nothing but breast milk.
Blame it on formula
According to a recent report by the charity Save the Children, breastfeeding in the Asia-Pacific region has fallen to 29 percent in 2012 from 45 percent in 2006. While myths about sagging breasts, reduced sexual appeal, and the “unnaturalness” of breastfeeding have contributed to the drop in numbers, infant formula is considered a major culprit.
For working mothers, formula might seem like the answer to prayers. Doctors too are quick to point out that infant formula can be a lifesaver in situations where mothers are unable to breastfeed. However, formula cannot be considered a replacement for mother’s milk. Instead, exclusive breastfeeding for six months is best to ensure the child’s health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mother’s milk contains antibodies that protect infants from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia, which are the two primary causes of child mortality worldwide.
A pediatrician certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants, specializes in Neonatology and Lactation from Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital. She reiterates, “Formula is just not comparable to breast milk. The whey protein, lactose, and fat in breast milk are easily digestible for infants and the fat helps brain development. Bio-active protein SIg A, lysozyme, and the white blood cells in breast milk help infants fight off infections. Breast milk also has lactoferrin that helps babies absorb iron and it also has elements that aid growth. Formula manufacturers are constantly trying to enhance the nutrition value of their products, but they can’t match all the essential nutrients already present in mother’s milk.”
WHO warns that not only is infant formula unable to replicate all the natural nutrients and antibodies present in breast milk, it could also lead to illnesses if not prepared properly. Unsafe water or unsterilized equipment used in the preparation of formula or even bacteria in the formula could expose infants with developing immune systems to different types of diseases. Over-diluting the formula to make it last longer could result in malnutrition. Also, the cost incurred on formula is higher than in the case of breastfeeding.
The risk of illness, and subsequent medical expenses, is also higher when infants are fed formula rather than breast milk in the first six months of their life. “Among 0-3 month olds, 73% of exclusively breastfed babies are never sick as compared to only 54% of non-exclusively breastfed babies. Among 3-6 month olds, 67% of exclusively breastfed babies and 38% of non-exclusively breastfed babies are never sick. Breastfed children are less likely to have type 1 and 2 diabetes. They have improved cognitive development. They are less likely to be overweight and obese as adults,” doctor points out.
Additionally, it’s not just children who reap the benefits of breastfeeding. According to WHO, breastfeeding women have a lower risk of contracting breast and ovarian cancer later in life. Although research on the issue is ongoing, it has been suggested that breastfeeding helps women return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster and lowers obesity rates. Breastfeeding has also been found to be effective in dealing with post-partum depression and bleeding. For women concerned about their bodies, breastfeeding helps enlarged breasts reduce to nearly pre-pregnancy size over time. It also helps the uterus shrink.
In spite of the advantages stacked in its favor, breastfeeding might not be an easy choice to make because of various social factors. Recognizing this, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has chosen peer support as its theme for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week ( During August 1-7of every year). It has identified Five Circles of Support for women who have to make the choice to breastfeed. With women as the central circle, the five circles of support include family and social network, healthcare systems, workplaces, governments, and emergency/crisis responses. WABA wants to focus attention on government legislation against aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes and favourable conditions for women to breastfeed and workplace arrangements that allow lactating mothers to express and store breast milk. It also highlights the need for support to a mother in case of natural disasters, refugee camps, divorce proceedings, critical illness of mother or baby, or living in an area of high HIV/AIDS prevalence (For details on how you can help or how you can seek help, visit http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/).
Doctor notes, “Preparations for motherhood should begin at pregnancy. Pregnant women should attend antenatal care classes. Families should choose a hospital wisely, taking the time to find a baby-friendly accredited hospital. For instance, some hospitals have a 24-hour hotline for new mothers and staff are trained to respond if the baby does not latch on to the mother’s nipple properly or if the mother has cracked or bleeding nipples. Mothers must make use of lactation clinics and consultants effectively.”
The doctor also emphasizes the need for support outside the healthcare system, “Offices should provide a corner where the mother can pump and store milk in the fridge. It doesn’t take much effort and mothers would work more efficiently if they didn’t have to deal with full breasts or sick babies. Fathers are also important. The father must ensure that the mother is happy, healthy, and able to nurse. Fathers and grandmothers are the most important support system in the city. My main message to pregnant women and new mothers is, don’t struggle alone; there is help everywhere. Reach out.”
This year as the world celebrates breastfeeding week, let us pledge to support any initiative that would ensure that our children begin their lives with a healthier alternative.
For further information, please contact:
Child Health Institute
Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital
2nd Floor, Building 2
Tel: 66 (0) 2711-8236-7
Call Center: 66 (0) 2711-8181
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