The following is a summary of an article I recently read. The article, “Child and Adolescent Health and Development,” is located on the World Health Organization's (WHO) online site. It is an article supporting breastfeeding as the ideal means of feeding infants. The article provides specific reasons for why breastfeeding is beneficial, as well as recommendations for enabling and sustaining the process of breastfeeding.
According to the WHO, breastfeeding reduces child mortality and produces benefits throughout the breastfed infant’s lifetime. Specific benefits of breast milk include providing all the energy and nutrients needed for the first months of life. In the first few days after birth, colostrum is secreted which provides the baby with antibodies and a very high amount of nutrients. Breast milk also promotes sensory and cognitive development and also protects the infant against infectious and chronic diseases. If an infant is fed exclusively breast milk for their first six months their mortality risk from childhood illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia decreases substantially. Breastfed infants will also most likely recover from illness quicker than formula fed babies.
Other benefits of breastfeeding listed in the article include its contributions to the mother’s health and well-being. Breastfeeding helps promote more time between conceiving another child, reduces the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and makes use of family resources instaed of requiring additional expenditures for formula and bottles; this is especially important for poor families in third world countries. Breastfeeding is also the safest way for a baby to be fed and is considered the most environmentally friendly method.
The article goes on to explain that breastfeeding is both a natural act and a learned behavior. Establishing and sustaining proper breastfeeding techniques requires training and support. Organizations such as the WHO and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have developed programs to help teach new mothers how to breastfeed while they are still pregnant, and while they are in the hospital after giving birth. There are also courses for health care workers that train them on how to educate and guide patients that are new mothers on appropriate breastfeeding practices. It is important for parents of infants to know the most effective way of breastfeeding and when to begin incorporating other foods into their baby’s diet. The WHO recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months and then adding complementary foods to the child’s diet. Breastfeeding should be continued until the child is at least two years old. The article also lists the ways in which WHO recommends establishing and sustaining exclusive breastfeeding. Breastfeeding should be initiated within the first hour after birth. Do not provide the infant with any other source of food or drink, including water. Breastfeed every time the infant wants to eat. The final recommendation is to not give the infant any bottles or pacifiers. For these reasons and certainly many others, breastfeeding is beneficial to newborn babies and their mothers alike.
Child and Adolescent Health and Development. World Health Organization. 2009.