Patiala, 30th August 2016: As India continues to bear the burden of one of the highest number of neonatal deaths, premature births, and low weight births in the world, experts have pointed out that breastfeeding is imperative for the overall development of newborns as well as their mothers, and should no longer be treated as an option.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed (without any solid food, formula, or water) for the first six months of life for achieving optimal growth.  ”Breast milk is the first natural food for infants that helps to protect babies against colds, tummy bugs, infections, allergies, viruses and many other infections. A breastfed baby has a lower chance of getting pneumonia and GI infections like diarrhea, compared to a formula-fed baby. Exclusive breastfeeding offers the greatest possible amount of protection for babies,” says Dr. Neeraj Arora Consultant Neonatologist Columbia Asia Hospital, Patiala.

However, the significance of breastfeeding extends beyond basic nutrition and immunity. According to a recent report by UNICEF, breastfeeding immediately after birth, in the first hour, lowers chances of infant mortality. Breastfed babies are 20% less likely to die between 28 days and 1 year, compared to those who aren’t breastfed.

To reap maximum benefits, a baby must be fed exclusively with breast milk for the first 6 months, after which, the weaning process may begin. It also ensures better bone health and lowers the probability of infants developing cavities in their teeth. Most importantly, breastfeeding boosts the bond between the mother and child.

“Breastfeeding is the cornerstone of the child and the mother’s wellbeing. Breast milk is a good source of fat and cholesterol, and also an important feeder to building brain and nerve tissue. In addition to all kinds of vitamins and nutrients babies require, breast milk is packed with disease-fighting substances that protect babies from illness and also promotes cognitive development. On the other hand, mothers who make this a habit are at a lower risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis,” shares Dr. Neeraj Arora

“Some of the other health benefits associated with breastfeeding for women are reduced chances of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer as well as heart diseases, regulation of blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels. It also burns calories fast, and helps mothers lose pregnancy weight,” adds Dr. Neeraj.   

Unfortunately, breastfeeding rates continue to be dismal in our country and is often associated with stigma and shame when women choose do breastfeed in a public place. According to reports, in developing countries, only 1 in 3 mothers breastfeed. “Although breastfeeding is most effective for children and mothers regardless of where they live, it has been often overlooked. We should remember that breast milk is always the best and there can be no substitute for it. Awareness should be spread to get mother’s milk to every baby, especially the more vulnerable ones, such as premature babies, or those born to mothers who may not be able to breastfeed, due to infections like HIV,” said Dr. Jyoti Chawla Consultant Pediatrician Columbia Asia Hospital.

As the world celebrates World Breastfeeding Week, doctors at Columbia Asia reiterate that it is the need of the hour to push for programmes which encourage optimal breastfeeding practices. “In a way, it is a celebration of motherhood, of new life, and of the special bond that mothers and babies have,” said Dr. Jyoti Chawla.