Breastfeeding is universal, and rightfully so. It is probably the simplest and, at the same time, the most challenging task for a new mother.
Breastfeeding is the best feeding for babies! Breast milk is the ideal food for a baby as it is a concoction of the right kind of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and immunoglobulins. It gives infants all the nutrients they need for healthy development.
It is safe and contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia - the two primary causes of child mortality worldwide. Its ready availability also ensures that infants get adequate sustenance, at the right temperature without any preparation, thus avoiding the possibility of infections.
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Breastfeeding is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. The practice, when done exclusively, is associated with a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control (98% protection in the first 6 months after birth). It reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer later in life, helps women return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster, and lowers rates of obesity.
There appear to be long term benefits of breastfeeding too. Adults who were breastfed as babies often have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, as well as lower rates of obesity and type-2 diabetes. There is evidence that people who were breastfed perform better in intelligence tests.
We often find well motivated new mothers trying exclusive breastfeeding, with some being successful at it, but others ending up in tears and a sense of failure. Apart from a minuscule number of women who actually have lactation failure, most women are able to feed ‘to some extent’.
Successful breastfeeding depends on a number of factors including proper positioning, the baby latching on to the entire areola, initial blockage of ducts and so on. Appropriate support from a qualified person in any centre that is meant for pregnancy and childbirth is crucial to overcoming these hurdles and helping a postnatal woman feed her baby.
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In fact, we presented data from Cloudnine facilities at the World Breast Feeding Conference recently which showed that the breastfeeding success in Cloudnine is about 95% at the age of 6 weeks – the best in the world today - because of the support provided in our facilities.
We have breastfeeding classes every day, and even mothers with inverted nipples retracted nipples and various other issues successfully breastfeed after a few days of hard work. While breastfeeding comes naturally to some women, for most women it is a skill that needs to be learnt.
Many women who return to work abandon breastfeeding partially or completely because they do not have sufficient time, or a place to breastfeed, express and store their milk. Mothers need a safe, clean and private place in or near their work to continue breastfeeding. Enabling conditions at work can help, such as paid maternity leave, part-time work arrangements, on-site crèches, facilities for expressing and storing breast milk, and breastfeeding breaks.
Infants should be exclusively breastfed, that is, receive no other food but breast milk for the first six months of life, to achieve optimal growth, development and health. The infant can be given oral rehydration salts, drops and syrups (vitamins, minerals and medicines) if required.
But after 6 months, to meet the growing needs of babies, complementary foods should be introduced as they continue to breastfeed. Foods for the baby can be specially prepared or modified from family meals. The World Health Organization notes that:
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