If every child was breast-fed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for their first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years, an estimated 500,000 child lives would be saved in Nigeria every year. Nigeria has the 10th highest infant mortality rate so every effort must be made to reduce this.
Based on the number of lives breastfeeding can save, the World Health Organization has given the following recommendations:
- Children should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives
- Complementary food should be introduced at six months
- Breastfeeding should be continued for 12 to 24 months
Outside of intensifying the mother-child bond, breastfeeding is beneficial to babies in so many ways as it:
Provides optimal nutrition – Breast milk is a unique combination of nutrients essential to a child’s health. The nutrients even change over time to meet the needs of the baby
Strengthens the immune system – Human milk contains maternal antibodies that are passed from the mother to the baby. Breast-fed infants therefore gain extra protection through antibodies, other proteins and immune cells in human milk, that fortify the baby with disease-fighting substances and protect them from illness.
Lowers risk of obesity – Breastfeeding reduces the risk of becoming overweight as a teen or adult vs. formula.
Enhances brain development – Studies suggest a relationship between breast feeding and mental development. This effect appears strongest with prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding.
Lowers risk for allergies – In the early days of breastfeeding, the milk contains colostrum. This helps prevent allergic reactions to food by providing a layer of protection to the baby’s intestinal tract.
Reduces risk of SID – Exclusive or partial breastfeeding reduces risk of Sudden Infant Death (SID). It has been recommended that breastfeeding should be done for as long as possible.
Lowers risk of diabetes – Evidence shows that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of type 1 and type 2 diabetes later in life.
Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease – Breastfeeding may provide a protective effect against several cardiovascular risk factors e.g. blood pressure, cholesterol, and others.
Before you think breastfeeding is only beneficial to children, you should know that women who breastfeed for at least 6 months decrease their risk of ovarian cancer Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, osteoporosis and post-partum depression.
While breastfeeding may not seem the right choice for every parent, it certainly seems the best option for every baby.