A month ago, I worked with a data collection team assigned to some primary health centres. We were collecting data for research that aimed at determining how much mothers (nursing mothers especially) knew about exclusive breastfeeding. Before we go on you should know that exclusive breastfeeding is giving a baby only breast milk for the first 6 months of life.
During the fieldwork, I often heard statements like “What is that? Oh, do you mean giving a baby only breast for 6 months? I’ve heard that thing before but I can’t cope with the wahala (stress)” and so on. From data gathered at those PHCs, I would say that only about 5 out of 10 women really understand the concept of exclusive breastfeeding in this part of the country.
What is Exclusive Breastfeeding?
Exclusive Breastfeeding is a practice whereby a newborn is fed with only breast milk for the first 6 months of life with exception to prescribed vitamins, syrups or medications. This is WHO’s recommendations. The practice covers both direct breastfeed and milk expression into a bottle feeder.
Providing the baby with the necessary food for proper growth and development via breastfeeding is incomparable. The practice of exclusive breastfeeding makes this process effective. Exclusive Breastfeeding is also an important part of the reproductive cycle with benefits for mothers as we will see later.
The Practice of Exclusive Breastfeeding: The Ideal vs Reality.
Exclusive breastfeeding should ideally start from the moment the child is born where the baby is fed within the hour. This is an approach called ‘Early initiation of breastfeeding’. It was adapted to promote exclusive breastfeeding. Early initiation of breastfeeding is a measure to ensure that the child receives colostrum; thick and yellowish first milk.
I remember a woman told me “I give him only breast milk but sometimes I give him water because he is thirsty” I was like “how do you know he is thirsty?” The truth is even as a mother, you can’t tell that your infant is thirsty and also breast milk contains all the water your child needs for the first few months as long as you breastfeed on demand . Most of the time, these suggestions come from older so-called more experienced women, If you are not comfortable with their suggestions, smartly turn them down. Your baby is your responsibility!
The response of parents, mothers especially to this exclusive breastfeeding strategy varies greatly across all walks of life for different reasons.
Case 1: Research has shown that housewives are more likely to breastfeed exclusively in comparison to those with careers especially those with tasking jobs.
Case 2: Knowledge factor: women with little or no exposure to exclusive breastfeeding definitely won’t meet up with this standard. You remember that I mentioned a statement ‘…giving a baby breast for 6 months? from a woman on the field. She knew ‘breastfeeding’, ‘6 months’ but didn’t know that it meant ONLY breast milk and nothing else except medications prescribed “. That’s improper sensitization. As a mother, choose a suitable place of birth (hospital) where you will be informed adequately about standard practices.
Case 3: Medical factors like an HIV/Aids infected mother, a drug addict, a cancer patient undergoing therapy etc. People in this category may be exempted from breastfeeding exclusively.
What are the Benefits for a Baby?
Let’s see why Exclusive Breastfeeding pays off.
- Breast milk has all the vitamins, proteins and everything your baby needs in the right proportion. With baby food, the right mixture can’t be guaranteed. Many people don’t take their time to make sure they use the exact measurements. For others, the lack of funds to purchase the baby food can push them to mix in proportions that are not healthy. For example, more water and less infant formula.
- It builds the baby’s immune system because breast milk is rich in antibodies. With consistent breastfeeding, the baby’s body can easily fight off infections.
- Exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk of diarrhoea, pneumonia and other respiratory infections. This would, in turn, reduce the chances of under-five mortality and SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome].
- The probability of obesity in the child would be lower.
- Studies have related the higher Intelligence Quotient of a child to proper breastfeeding when he/she was an infant.
Are there Benefits for the Nursing Mother?
Yes, there are.
- Earlier, we said that breastfeeding is an essential part of the reproductive cycle. Question is ‘How?’ There is a hormone released into the bloodstream during breastfeeding. The hormone is oxytocin; it is channeled to the uterus to restore the pre-pregnancy size.
- It also reduces the chances of breast and ovarian cancer.
- Breastfeeding comes with economic benefits. At least, you don’t have to buy food for your baby in the first six months.
- Enhances mother-baby bonding.
- Certain hormones released during exclusive breastfeeding acts as a natural contraceptive, preventing pregnancy within that period.
Could there be Possible Disadvantages?
- Sagging breasts: Don’t get excited thinking you’ve found something negative. Doctors believe that genetics, ageing and others are more likely to change the shape of the breasts more than breastfeeding would.
- Mastitis [bacterial infection of the breast], breast engorgement that comes with pain etc. are all problems that can follow breastfeeding but you can scale through.
Exclusive breastfeeding is advantageous for the mother and the baby, give it a shot sis.!
A phenomenal lady whose skills and style do the talking. Her unending desire for better healthcare from persons, through to the public has always been her drive. Over the years, she has volunteered with different NGOs that try to promote a healthy lifestyle.
She hopes to one day create an avenue for people to get the guidance needed for nutrition essential for life, amongst other things. She believes knowledge paves ways. And so, makes it a responsibility to keep learning and impacting others.
Deborah Solomon is a believer and currently a medical student at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. She enjoys writing, traveling, music, and cooking.