Breastfeeding – Child Survival and Beyond
Published on: 21 August, 2019
World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), observed every year between 1st and 7th August, celebrates the significance of breastfeeding in the context of both child and maternal health. A completely natural process of nursing the newborn, breastfeeding is crucial for child survival and optimal growth and development later in life. Colostrum, or the first milk, is a perfect combination of both nutrients, and the antibodies (immunoglobulins), ensuring not only optimal nourishment and sustenance but also defense against infectious diseases. Breastfeeding, considered by many child health experts, is the single most effective strategy for prevention of mortality in children under 5 years of age. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 40% of infants, under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed. It is also estimated that if breastfeeding were scaled up to a universal level, 820,000 children would be saved every year.
POLHN has been playing an active role in advocating the importance of breastfeeding, in particular, with reference to the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs). The Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) course offered by POLHN, is aimed at equipping healthcare workers with strategies for developing an increased understanding of the process of breastfeeding in order to help new mothers adjust to this highly crucial phase of life.
As POLHN’s free online course on breastfeeding highlights, breastfeeding is the preferred mode of infant feeding in almost all critical births and emergencies, such as:
- Low birth weight (LBW) babies;
- Premature infants;
- Mothers living with HIV in surroundings with a higher death rate due to diarrhea and pneumonia;
- Adolescent mothers;
- Malnourished babies;
- Families dealing with the consequences of multifaceted emergencies.
An Essential Nutritional Source
Colostrum, (the yellowish, thick liquid produced by mother’s mammary glands at the end of gestation), is the perfect food for the newborn. Breastfeeding should be initiated within the first hour of birth, often termed as the ‘golden hour’. The baby should be exclusively breastfed (only mother’s milk), up to the age of six months to achieve optimal growth and development. At the age of six months, complementary feeding should also be introduced in conjunction with breastfeeding. However, breastfeeding should continue for up to two years of a child’s life, or even beyond, if the need arises. POLHN’s breastfeeding basics online course also provides additional essential information and guidelines regarding infant feeding and care.
Milk has biological specificity; mammals produce milk that is tailored to fulfill the needs of their young ones. A growing baby has rapidly growing nutritional needs as well. The composition of mother’s milk is such as to meet these requirements at every stage. Human milk has just the right proportion of fats and cholesterol needed by the human baby along with lipase, the enzyme needed for digestion of fats (in diet). Cholesterol helps in brain development and production of vitamin D. Whey proteins, and various vitamins and minerals are present in abundance in human milk. Breastmilk also contains antibodies, which protect the baby from various acute and chronic infections, such as diarrhea and pneumonia.
Breastmilk vs. Formula milk
Breastmilk is more beneficial to babies as compared to the formula milk. Breastmilk is a natural substance that the mother’s body produces for the nourishment of the newborn child. Formula milk may contain the basic vitamins, minerals, and proteins needed by the baby. However, it lacks antibodies that only the breastmilk can provide adequate numbers of. Children who are breastfed, are less likely to be obese later in their lives. Moreover, they have higher IQ levels, owing to better cognitive and sensory development.
Breastfeeding bears numerous benefits not only for the child but for the mother as well. Breastfeeding has a therapeutic effect on the mothers that results in relaxation when they feed their babies. Breastfeeding has also been shown to reduce the chances of development of various cancers in breastfeeding mothers, in particular, the breast and ovarian cancers, and prevention from postpartum depression, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular problems. Increased breastfeeding practice has been associated with averting close to 20,000 maternal deaths every year due to breast cancer. Mothers who breastfeed, lose the weight they put on during pregnancy, faster than the mothers who do not. Breastfeeding is also considered to be a natural method for birth control (98% protection up to six months postpartum) and hence, child spacing.
Learning the Basics of Breastfeeding through POLHN
Pacific Open Learning Health Net (POLHN) is working in collaboration with the WHO to train health workers in the domains of infant and young child feeding and care.
In the Pacific Island Countries (PICs), nurses and midwives are often the first to provide support and assistance to the new mothers. Therefore, POLHN has chosen them as the ‘focus group’ in this regard, in order to ensure that they are trained to provide up-to-date and accurate information, primarily through the learning they gained from the POLHN’s free online breastfeeding training course, namely Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF).
Important Topics Covered in Infant and Young Child Feeding
POLHN’s online training course on breastfeeding can be accessed for free and is geared towards healthcare providers. It focuses on:
- Malnutrition and different types of undernutrition grouped under this umbrella term.
- IYCF and its role in child survival, child growth, and child development.
- Breastfeeding, in particular exclusive breastfeeding, benefits of breastmilk, and what defines a good or bad attachment, as well as breastfeeding patterns and hurdles faced by breastfeeding mothers.
- Complementary feeding practices in light of the WHO recommendations.
- IYCF in the context of HIV/AIDS, the mother-to-child transmission (MTCT), and recommended IYCF interventions for both HIV-positive and HIV-negative mothers.
- Impact of emergencies on IYCF and the various intervention strategies, such as re-lactation and provision of breastmilk substitutes (BMS).