Written by: Mutshidzi Kwinda
When a baby is born, his/her ideal food is breast milk and breast milk only. Most of us know this fact but we do not entirely understand the vitality behind it. After randomly asking my two older sisters who both have two children if they understand the importance of breastfeeding the baby for at least six months, they showed an understanding of the benefits but the “exclusivity” part to them did not seem to uphold much significance. The same happened after I extended my conversations about exclusive breastfeeding with my female friends and other close relatives.
What is meant by “exclusive” breastfeeding?
Exclusive breastfeeding is a process of feeding the baby only breast milk without giving him/her any other food, or water for at least six months from the first hour he/she is born. The world health organization noted that, although many people know that breastfeeding is the most effective way to provide the baby with overall health benefits and a high survival rate, Not everyone follows the recommendations of exclusive breastfeeding. Statistics show that “nearly 2 out of 3 infants” are still not exclusively breastfed for the recommended period of six months.
Why is it important to exclusively breastfeed?
In the first six months, it is not necessary to give the baby any other food because the mother’s breast milk is enough. It provides the baby with all the needed nutrients for the baby’s organ development and is also rich in antibodies to help protect the baby from getting sick or acquiring infections.
In the first few days after birth, the baby is still fragile and prone to infections due to an underdeveloped and weak immune system. However, the mother’s milk (especially colostrum milk) is all he/she needs to survive all that. Colostrum is defined as a yellowish fluid that the mother (and other female mammals) first produces after giving birth before the mature milk comes out. This fluid is rich in nutrients, antibodies and provides the baby with immunity, growth, and other developmental benefits needed by the newborn.
Benefits of exclusive breastfeeding
It is cost-effective
Breast milk is readily available whenever the baby needs it. You do not have to buy it or spend time preparing it.
It provides ideal nutrition for the baby
With breast milk, you do not have to worry about sterility because the milk is already sterile and free from any possible contamination. You also do not need to worry about the quantity and quality of the nutrients.
It protects the baby against allergies and infections
Breast milk helps protect from allergies and infections that can cause diarrhea, constipation, ear infection, respiratory infections (such as pneumonia and asthma). Research shows that breast milk also reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by an estimation of 50%. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is explained by the mayo clinic as an “unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old.”
It enhances the mother-child bond
Studies also show that the physical closeness of the mother and baby while breastfeeding helps the baby feel secure and facilitates the mother-to-child bond easily. The same goes for the mother, the physical and emotional connection they get while breastfeeding is unique and has a wide variety of benefits.
Provide long-term health benefits for the mother
Although it is not to a greater extent, breastfeeding may reduce the risk of cancer such as breast, ovarian and uterine cancer later in life. Similarly, it can lessen the chances of suffering from common chronic illnesses such as diabetes mellitus type 2 (for both mother and baby), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis and obesity.
It can work as a natural contraceptive
How does it work? When the mother breastfeeds the baby exclusively for six months as per recommendation, the body naturally stops ovulating. That means there is no release of an egg for fertilization and therefore no pregnancy.
- This method may not be viable for every mother. However, if you are considering trying out this method, consult your doctor or pharmacist first for advice. You may need to consider other methods of contraception as a back-up.
Breastfeeding also promotes a healthy weight for the baby and may help the mother to lose weight accumulated during pregnancy.
This article is not to despise other ways of feeding the baby such as using formula milk. But to highlight the importance and benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. If you are a maternal parent to the baby and can breastfeed, it is advisable to consider it over other methods for both short-term and long-term benefits for you and the baby. For mothers with concerns such as HIV/AIDS patients, there are also ways you can successfully breastfeed your baby without putting them at risk of mother-to-child transmission.