Breast Milk: Not Just A Nutrient But A Tool For A Healthy Future

The first 1,000 days of life are one of the most critical times in the development of human life.

Nurturing care through proper nutrition and care can determine positive outcomes for a child and the family in general.

Many research studies have discussed the importance of breast milk in the holistic development of a child. Global agencies recommend the supply of breast milk at birth, exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months, and feeding support up to the age of two years.

At the first birth hour, which is also known as the golden hour, first feed of mother’s milk accompanied with skin-to-skin contact is what sets the momentum for the child to feel secure in a new environment and build trustworthy connections with parents. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, which means that babies receive only breast milk, provides child with the nutrients needed to grow.

Several studies have examined the long-term positive results of breastfeeding. Many of them state that babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their lives tend to have better developmental outcomes in their school and personal lives.

The long-term impact includes healthy indicators of well-being, lower risk of diabetes, obesity, malnutrition, and, above all, better immunity to adapt to changing bioecological paradigms. Not only does breast-feeding have an enormous impact on babies but also on maternal health. It promotes resilience, body agility, and supports mental well-being.

However, if babies are not provided with breast feeding in the earliest days of life may suffer malnutrition, experience lack of physiological resilience, become more prone for infections, and might face challenges to reach their best developmental potential.

Mother’s milk contains some of the best nutrients and protective elements to support the growth and development of the child. It not only has water, fats, protein, and micronutrients but also other components such as immune molecules, antibodies, antioxidants, and growth promoting hormones that provide the best protection for babies to adapt to outer world environment.

Given the critical importance of breastfeeding, it is essential that everyone support and promote breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is not a privilege; it is a child’s right to a thriving future.

It is advisable by the international board of lactation consultant (IBCLC) that mothers should not stop giving breast milk without consultation with the lactation consultant.

There are very few conditions in which mothers are advised not to give breastmilk to the babies like HIV and AIDS, when a mother is on certain drugs which will pass into breastmilk, or when she is going through radiation specific to the chest region.

During any ailments like common colds, flu, gastrointestinal infections, COVID-19, babies can be breastfed if proper precautions and hygiene measures are followed. Breast milk contains antibodies against the infections in a mother and this will protect the baby from getting the same infection.

It is necessary that each person supports breastfeeding initiatives in his or her own context and scope. Government and policy makers should dedicate financial commitment to promote breastfeeding, legalize implications for public places for promotion of breast feeding and invest in addressing the malnutrition so that families living under ultra-poverty can be supported. Healthcare sectors should offer breastfeeding consultations and family support clinics.

Non-governmental and community organizations should campaign for breast-feeding promotion in areas where it is needed. Public places are expected to offer nursing cabins to support this legitimate provision.

Individuals should encourage breastfeeding, not stifle it, and families should support breastfeeding mothers and be sensitive to their needs. Breastfeeding is not an individual responsibility; it requires reassurance from key players in the health and civil society sectors and support mechanisms.

This International Breastfeeding Week gives us the opportunity to promote breastfeeding at all levels for a better future.

Ms. Zohra Kurji, Lactation Consultant at the Aga Khan University Hospital, is the co-author of this blog

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