The World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated during the first week of August and its purpose is to raise awareness and promote breastfeeding on all fronts. This event is endorsed by the WHO, UNICEF, other partners and the governments of more than 170 countries. Breastfeeding undeniably sets a solid foundation of lifelong good health. Let us take a few minutes to comprehend and reflect on its benefits for babies as well as mothers.

Nutrition in Breast milk 

Breast milk provides the ideal nourishment necessary for survival, optimal growth and development of a baby. It contains all the nutrients including vitamins, minerals and water necessary for a baby to thrive well; it is easily digested by babies and contains the protective factor or the antibodies that babies need to fight off diseases and infections.

Three Es to Remember

Early – a baby should be breast fed as soon as possible after birth. Skin-to-skin contact along with suckling the breast stimulates the production of milk. This is possible also after ceasarean births. Starting breastfeeding early ensures that the babies receive the colostrum (thick yellowish milk) which is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies. No wonder it is also called the baby’s ‘first vaccine’. Exclusive – a baby should be given only breast milk, not even water, during the first six months of life. Babies need to be fed frequently as much as they demand. Nutritious complementary foods should be given from six months onward. Extended – breastfeeding should be continued for up to two years or beyond. Breast milk will continue to add valuable nutrients to a child’s diet and confer protection from diseases.

Benefits for the Child

As the perfect nutrition for babies intended by nature, breast milk contributes to optimal growth and development:
• Provides protection from infections and diseases including diarrhea,  asthma and others
• Helps in quicker recovery from illnesses
• Contributes to long term brain development and cognitive benefits
• Reduces risk of obesity/overweight and various chronic diseases later on in life 

Benefits for the Mother

• Faster recovery from child birth as breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps return the uterus to its regular size and reduces bleeding
• Exclusive breastfeeding confers 99% family planning protection till first six months
• Enhances a special bond with the baby
• A sense of satisfaction and empowerment
• Saves time and money spent on other feeding options 
• As the baby gets sick less often, saves time and money spent on hospital visits
• Reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers later on in life 
• Emerging findings indicate many other health benefits

Breastfeeding helps mothers in weight management after delivery as breastfeeding burns energy (up to 500 calories per day)

Upholding Breastfeeding 

Breast-feeding is a natural and a very healthy choice that women can make for themselves and their babies. Specific medical conditions may challenge a few women but a majority can breastfeed successfully. Women are 2.5 times more likely to engage in breastfeeding when it is supported and protected.

• Health and nutrition workers have the responsibility of providing the right information and guidance at the right time. Hospitals and other health facilities providing maternity services should ensure that they have health workers trained in lactation management. This simple step significantly helps in early initiation as well as continuation of breastfeeding by mothers. 

• Parents, family and friends also have a big role to play in helping a mother breastfeed throughout the breastfeeding journey. The early days can be daunting for new mothers – hence encouragement, physical as well as emotional support make a big difference. Husbands/fathers, in particular, have a crucial duty to support the new mother as breastfeeding is not a one-woman job.  

• Legal provisions are a must to minimize the issues and challenges faced by women who breastfeed. The Nepal government has recently increased maternity leave to 98 days as per Labour Act 2074 (2017), applicable for both the public and private sector. It is definitely progress in the right direction but the job is yet to be fully done. A collective effort is still required to strive towards ensuring at least six months of paid maternity leave in all organized workforce. The same ought to be extended and ensured for women in the unorganized work sector.

• Work places should also provide breastfeeding rooms, breastfeeding breaks and appropriate flexibility for mothers. Such support provided to women is bound to benefit the employers. Satisfied mothers are better able to focus on their work translating into enhanced productivity. 

Breastfeeding definitely provides a strong foundation for a child, helping to reach his or her full potential in life. The advantages are equally compelling for the mothers. Protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding are in essence everyone’s responsibility. The unparalleled benefits for individuals and the whole society must be fully reaped!