Breastfeeding is the natural way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. All mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information and the support of their family, the health care system and society at large. Colostrum, the clear-to-yellowish coloured thick and sticky breastmilk produced at the end of pregnancy until the first few days after birth is recommended by WHO as the perfect food for the newborn, and feeding should be initiated within the first hour after birth. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. – World Health Organization (WHO)
All females are given the right “equipment” to breastfeed their young. In the days before infant formula was manufactured, breastmilk was the only form of nutrition for young children. Even in undeveloped countries and many rural areas of the world today, breastfeeding remains the only viable way to provide nourishment for infants. However, facts about breastmilk and breastfeeding have been all forgotten in Singapore for the past two decades until 2001, which Health Promotion Board started to promote breastfeeding officially.
Breastfeeding Benefits for the Babies
- Breastmilk is easily digestible so baby can fully absorb the nutrients in the milk which means babies’ growth needs are met without risk of obesity.
- High concentration of carbohydrates in breastmilk meets infants’ energy needs and protein which is necessary for baby’s growth, is present in a highly digestible form.
- Special ingredients like Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, DHA and ARA and other undefined nutrients are present in breastmilk, which enhance brain and vision development.
- Antibodies are invaluable for boosting babies’ immunity against infection. The mothers’ antibodies are passed on through their breastmilk.
- Breastmilk contains components which are necessary for growth and development. For example, growth factors help in the development of baby’s gut, while nucleotides play an important role in the development of a healthy immune system, reducing the incidence of asthma and allergy.
- Breastmilk helps to stimulate growth and adaptation of newborn gut. It contains prebiotics which promote the growth of probiotics (healthy bacteria) in the gut.
- White blood cells and immunoglobulins protect against microbial invasion, reducing the incidence of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.
- The composition of breastmilk changes with individual babies’ needs at different stages of growth. Proportions of fat, carbohydrates and proteins are adjusted constantly.
- Breastfeeding decreases the incidence and/or severity of a wide range of infectious diseases, including bacterial meningitis, enterocolitis, otitis media, urinary tract infection, and late-onset sepsis in preterm infants.
- Breastfeeding decreases rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the first year of life.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Mothers
- Breastfeeding promotes bonding between mother and child. Baby is able to pick up on odorants or chemicals which give off smells that are unique to mother’s breasts.
- As making breastmilk burns more calories, mothers are able to return to the pre-pregnancy weight more quickly. Non-breastfeeding mothers tend to keep the weight gained during pregnancy longer as it is not utilised.
- The breast reaches its final maturation phase only with breastfeeding and hence breastfeeding protects mothers from breast cancer.
- Prolonged breastfeeding has been associated with decreased risk of ovarian and uterine cancer.
- Breastfeeding is beneficial for preventing postpartum bleeding. The hormone oxytocin that triggers the let down reflex also causes the womb to contract. This action helps expel excess blood that has not been fully cleared after delivery or which has accumulated since delivery.
- Breastfeeding can be used as a means of natural family planning in the first six months and spacing between children, as postpartum infertility occurs when women fully breastfeed. However it is only effective if a woman breastfeeds exclusively and does not skip feeds for a prolonged period. It is best to use contraceptives if the woman does not wish to get pregnant again immediately.
- Many mothers find exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is more economical and straightforward than formula-feeding. In addition, they do not have to worry about imperfect sterilisation of bottles and equipment. Breastfed babies fall sick less often, so mothers do not have to nurse a sick baby as often.
- There are research that points to possible decrease of the risk of hip fractures and osteoporosis in the postmenopausal period for women who breastfeed for long periods.