Breastfeeding is often described as the best feeding for a baby. It is the first food in terms of oral intake and strongly establishes a child’s health trajectory from that point on.
Breastfeeding, also called nursing, begins within the first hour of birth. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to 2 years and beyond.
Breast milk contains vital nutrients such as protein, vitamins, fat, sugar and water that are essential for the all-round development of the child. The first milk produced is called colostrum. It is easily digestible, protects the gastro-intestinal tract, helps the baby pass stools and the antibodies act as a defence against harmful diseases. The importance and benefits of breastfeeding are mutual and highly endorsed.
There is no set frequency to breastfeed. It is totally up to the mother and child. However, it is noted that immediately after birth, feeding is once in 2-3 hours. In a couple of months, the frequency moves to once in 3-4 hours. Babies are introduced to other foods after the sixth month. At this time, the frequency of breastfeeding becomes once in 4-5 hours or longer.
The most common way of understanding when to breastfeed is when the baby cries. As the days progress, they exhibit other signs such as turning to look for the breast, licking their lips, sticking their tongue out, opening their mouth and sucking their fingers. When these signals go unnoticed, they begin crying.
Breastfeeding mothers should be on a super–nutritious diet that provides proteins, calcium, iron, vitamins, carbohydrates, fats and omega-3 fatty acids. Foods that provide these nutrients are lean meat, eggs, chicken, dairy products, nuts, green leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and oats. Fenugreek is widely known to increase the supply of breast milk. Since fenugreek is bitter, it can be flavoured with honey to make it drinkable.
The following are the health benefits of breastfeeding for mother and child.
- It is easily digestible
- It protects against respiratory illnesses
- It prevents allergies
- It helps release excess bilirubin, which causes infant-jaundice
- It keeps the digestive system smooth
- It fights off viruses, germs and infection
- It is a shield against lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, cancer and obesity
- It contains long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that help neural development
- It forges an incredible bonding between mother and child
- It protects the mother against breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, endometriosis and osteoporosis.