Exclusive breastfeeding: What young mothers should know

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Exclusive breastfeeding means giving the infant only breast milk – no other liquids or solids, except vitamin or mineral drops and medicines. It is recommended that infants should be exclusively breastfed for at least the first 4 and, if possible, the first 6 months of life.

Breast milk is a safe, hygienic source of energy, nutrients, and fluids. It contains disease fighting substances and vitamins that support the body’s natural immune system. Other infant feeding products significantly increase deaths from diarrhea and respiratory diseases. No other substance provides a nourishing, bacteria-free, allergen-free, antibody containing, digestible alternative to breast milk. In a hot climate, exclusive breastfeeding provides all the fluid a healthy infant needs to satisfy thirst and to avoid dehydration. No extra fluids are needed.

In addition to being the only food or liquid given, breastfeeding in the first several months should be practiced in a way that ensures enough milk is being consumed by the infant to meet the infant’s energy needs. This means practicing exclusive, unrestricted breastfeeding, day and night, as often and as long as the infant wants. It can include giving the infant expressed mother’s milk from a cup if the mother is away.

breastfeeding soon after birth helps establish the mother’s milk supply, helps her uterus contract, reduces bleeding in the mother, protects the newborn against hypothermia, provides colostrum or first milk that contains infection fighting substances and concentrated nutrients for infants, and has important psycho-social benefits for the mother and infant. Keeping the newborn with the mother (also called “rooming in”) and not giving additional formula or glucose water are important to establishing successful breastfeeding. Giving additional fluids or foods to newborns or young infants reduces breast milk supply and creates health problems.

Breastfeeding is important for diarrhea case management and is one of the most cost-effective interventions for diarrhea disease control. It costs less to prevent diarrhea through breastfeeding promotion than through any other intervention. Breastfed children who have diarrhea recover more quickly than non-breastfed children, and they have fewer complications such as dehydration.

Breastfeeding also has health benefits for the mother. Frequent, unsupplemented breastfeeding for about 6 months provides protection from another pregnancy by suppressing fertility in the mother. It helps women control their fertility and is a highly effective method of family planning, when practiced appropriately.

When infants are given other fluids, formula or foods, they cut back on the amount of Breast milk they consume. Even if families can afford to buy and prepare infant formula adequately, formula cannot fully replace the benefits of breastfeeding.

Author: Bibian Okoye

A Retired Chief Nursing Officer, PGDip IHM

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