Importance of Breastfeeding and Child Health.
Birth of a child is the most memorable and beloved natural phenomenon. A newborn is vulnerable, defenseless and has minimal resistance to any external exposure. The situation becomes gloomier in case of a developing country where both infrastructural and socio-cultural barriers aggravate the situation. South Asia ranks as the worst region in the world when it comes to child health.
The situation is no different in Pakistan where infant mortality rate of 61 and neonatal mortality rate of 44 per 1000 live births and malnutrition prevails in shape of wasting, stunting and anemia. Lack of breastfeeding, one of the primary factors in a newborn’s growth, deflects the child from its natural growth trajectory resulting in irreversible stunting and malnourished babies across the country.
According to National Nutrition Survey (NNS-2018), Exclusive Breastfeeding, early initiation and continued breastfeeding show an upward trend from 2011. Moreover, nearly half (45.8%) receive breast milk during the first hour after birth. From 50% in 2001 decreasing to 37.7% in 2011, breastfeeding rates have now increased to 48% in 2018, taking Pakistan close to the World Health Assembly target of 50%.
Malnutrition is a silent epidemic which is hollowing the nation at an enormous rate. It may seem that the remedy to such a colossal calamity would be exorbitant, but surprisingly it is free of cost. Breast-milk is a natural medicine which helps protect children against allergies and infections by increasing their immunity and reduces the overall risk of malnutrition.
According to WHO, “…breastfeeding reduces child mortality and has health benefits that extend into adulthood. On a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is the recommended way of feeding infants, followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to two years or beyond”
Breastmilk being the first food for babies, provides all necessary nutrients to the child fulfilling their needs from infancy till two years of age at varying rates. Breastmilk has the perfect quality and quantity of nutrients, easily digested and absorbed; protecting against infection. Breastfeeding helps bonding and development between the mother and baby, helps delay a new pregnancy, and protects mothers’ health and above all costs less than artificial/bottle feeding.
Colostrum, the first feed from the mother also known as ‘Liquid Gold’ is a precious and nutritious gift from the nature. Colostrum is antibody rich and has many white cells which helps the baby prevent the risk of allergies, infection. Another vital nutrient present in colostrum is Purgative which helps prevent jaundice and clears meconium. It is also Vitamin A rich which reduces severity of infection. Colostrum, therefore, is a gift for a newborn.
In addition to the effects reported on children’s cognitive and brain development, there is evidence that breastfeeding also impacts social and emotional development in children. It creates a bond between mother and child where not only the baby but the mother is also satisfied and relieved. The baby feels emotionally secure and pampered.
On the other hand, artificial feeding is considered as a threat to child development both cognitively and psychologically. It increases the risk of: respiratory infections; persistent diarrhea; Vitamin A deficiency; Allergies and Milk Intolerance; Obesity; lower scores on intelligence. For mothers, it increases the risk of ovarian cancer, anemia and breast cancer.
A newborn’s immune system and response reaches its full strength around the age of 5. Before that, a child cannot put up an effective response against foreign organisms. Mother milk when consumed, helps prevent microorganisms from penetrating the newborn’s body tissues with the help of molecules, cells and antibodies present in it. Antibodies, also called immunoglobulins, take five basic forms all of which have been found in human milk. Therefore, breast-fed babies produce higher levels of antibodies in response to immunizations.
HDF under its awareness campaign Umeed Say Aagay (Moving Past Hope) has been rigorously advocating for importance of breastfeeding and all those factors that could contribute in reduction of malnutrition. In this regard, we have made ‘breastfeeding corners for Mothers working in our offices all over Pakistan. We support our women employees to ensure that their newborns and infants have an uninterrupted access to Mother Milk. Our community health workers go door to door in HDF villages ensuring exclusive breastfeeding till 6 months along with breastfeeding practices till two years of age.
Umeed Say Aagay has, and continues to:
1) Facilitate mass awareness in Pakistan about the importance of required healthy nutrition for mother and child wellness in the first 1000 days and beyond through youth led social movement.
2) Help in Capacity building of front line health workers on the concept of 1000 days incorporating Respectful Maternity Care (RMC) before, during and after childbirth as basic human right.
3) Advocate low-cost, replicable and technology enabled program models for the sustainable wellbeing of mothers and children.
4) Facilitate and strengthen cross-sector collaboration amongst wide range of critical stakeholders to bring an end to malnutrition in all its forms through desired changes in policies, systems and practices.
5) Enhanced investment and optimal utilization of budgets on nutrition sensitive programing.
Breastfeeding, therefore, is a natural remedy that could prove to be the paramount factor in reducing malnutrition during the first 1000 days. Global community is observing the World Breastfeeding Week from 1-7th August. This week provides a window of opportunity for Mother-Child health advocates and decision makers to sensitize masses and inform public policy. It can also be utilized to bust the myths surrounding breastfeeding.
 Goldman AS. The immune system of human milk: antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulation properties. Pediatr Infect Dis J 1993 Aug;12(8):664-71.