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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Breast feeding and its importance

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By Fanta Fofana

I was inspired to write this piece after watching a news report on the reasons why breast-feeding is unpopular in China. It bothered me that according to the Chinese ministry of health, only 28% of mothers breastfeed their babies while the use of baby formula milk is on the rise. These were some of the women’s excuses for using formula milk:

1. ‘I had to go back to work.’
2. ‘I didn’t make enough milk.’
3. Formula these days is just as good as breast
4.’I didn’t breastfeed and my baby is

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I began to ask myself where did they go wrong? Is The Gambia facing these same challenges? For a start, I knew I had no concrete data on breast-feeding in The Gambia. However, I knew from my observation and hearsay that we have not gone that bad but I worry that we might be heading in that direction.

Breastfeeding is important to both mother and baby in several ways. Studies have shown that it helps reduce your baby’s risk of obesity, Type 1 diabetes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), pneumonia and other respiratory infections such as coughs and colds, gastrointestinal illnesses such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, Chrohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and Celiac disease, urinary tract infections, ear infections that can damage hearing, meningitis, childhood cancers including leukemia and lymphoma, heart disease and liver disease in adulthood.

Breast milk is the safest and healthiest food for your baby. It’s easily digested and provides all the nutrition your baby needs for the first six months. Babies who breastfeed have better mental development and emotional security. They also have better jaw and tooth development and stronger immune systems.
Breastfeeding helps women to heal after baby’s birth and avoid severe post-delivery bleeding. It helps the mother to return more quickly to pre pregnancy weight, burning 500 extra calories per day.

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It builds a strong emotional bond between mothers and their babies. Breastfeeding helps the mother to relax since every time she breastfeeds she gets a surge of the bonding hormone oxytocin, which has a calming and relaxing effect. And here is the best part because you get to save time and money; formula is expensive and time consuming to prepare. But breast milk is always ready and always at the right temperature – ideal when you’re tired. Later in life women who do not breastfeed are at higher risk for diabetes, osteoporosis, breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers.

Breast feeding has different types which include:
Exclusive breastfeeding which is defined as “an infant’s consumption of human milk with no supplementation of any type (no water, no juice, no nonhuman milk and no foods) except for vitamins, minerals and medications. Exclusive breastfeeding till six months of age helps to protect an infant from gastrointestinal infections in both developing and industrialized countries.

The risk of death due to diarrhea and other infections increases when babies are either partially breastfed or not breastfed at all.
Complementary feeding also known as predominant or mixed breastfeeding where the baby is fed breast milk along with baby food and even water, depending on the child’s age. It starts after six months since the breast milk is not sufficient enough at this stage of the baby’s growth.
Having mentioned the excuses women give to avoid breastfeeding above, here are some solutions to get rid of those excuses:

The first excuse is one my fellow career women tend to give. Yes, you can still work and breastfeed your child. If you live near work you may be able to take nursing breaks to feed your baby. If that’s not possible, you can keep up your milk supply by using a breast pump to express milk during the workday.
The second excuse ‘I didn’t make enough milk’ is equal to I didn’t try enough. Breast feeding is a feedback mechanism in the sense that the more the baby breastfeeds, the more signals are sent to the brain which produces hormones in response to the suckling and therefore produces more milk. So here comes the news, if you don’t breastfeed, you will never make enough milk.

The third excuse gets to me a lot. Nothing in this world is comparable to breast milk and formulated milk does come close but it’s not quite there. Formulated milk does not contain the antibodies found in breast milk. There are substances added to formulated milk to help protect babies from illness but these are not as easily absorbed by babies as breast milk and do not offer the same kind of protection. Higher concentration of vitamins and minerals in the formula make it more difficult to digest and more likely that your baby will suffer gas, constipation, upset stomach.

The final excuse is sort of a reassurance for mothers not breastfeeding but did you ever wonder if what would happen if you breastfeed your baby. Here is the answer:
I breastfed and my baby is better/smarter/healthier.

I wrote this piece not to scold mothers who are not breastfeeding their babies or hail breastfeeding mothers but show all mothers support. They are doing a phenomenal job and their efforts are noticed. However, complementing the job of parenting with breastfeeding betters your job, your mother-baby bond and also betters your child’s growth.

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