According to UNICEF, if all children were exclusively breastfed from birth, it would be possible to save approximately 1.5 million lives.
And who wouldn’t want to give their precious little ones the most valuable and powerful of all gifts?
As Dr. Cynthia Saba, Assistant Professor at the Physical Therapy Department and Teaching Consultant at Teaching and Learning Center explained, breast milk is the one and only natural food designed to feed our newborns, as soon as his/her first cry is heard. The World Health Organization advises every mother to breastfeed exclusively until her baby is 6 months and then introduce progressively solids along with it. Between 6 moths and a year, breast milk will still be the main and most important source of nutriments in the baby’s diet. Though there have been infinite attempts to produce identical milk in the market, none of the formula or animal milks out there can match a mother’s breast milk superpowers.
The list of benefits is much bigger than any of us could imagine, but let’s try to highlight the main ones: Breastfed babies tend to suffer much less respiratory illnesses, asthma, diarrhea, ear and gastro infections. Their eyesight and speech skills are strengthened. Their bones are as healthy as can be thanks to the important amount of calcium and vitamin D. Their nervous system is well nurtured with lots of fatty acids. Lower limb muscles are stronger and lead to steadier first steps. Their immune systems fight much better against diseases, viruses and microbes as breast milk constantly creates the proper antibodies they need.
We should not neglect the fact that moms are also winners in the breastfeeding process. It is a calorie burner (500 to 800 cal/day), a great method for a better healing process post-delivery to “get the body back”, it lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and type-2 diabetes. In addition to a lower risk of degenerative brain disorder such as Alzheimer. Also, breastfeeding is the most efficient contraceptive measure to space pregnancies and creates an optimal bonding between the mom and her baby.
Now in spite of all those benefits, Dr. Saba says that sadly, some mothers still choose to bypass this practice. The most common of reasons is that they are not able to “produce milk”. While studies show that every woman has the capacity to do so, besides a very tiny exception, mothers are often, sadly, mislead and discouraged by the first few days of the process: their babies will nurse for many hours a day, yet their milk won’t usually appear until 3-5 days following birth. What does come out right away though is the colostrum, which is the first concrete sign of breast milk and a very crucial substance for the newborn. Within the same week, the mother’s supply starts establishing along with the baby’s nursing frequency, until a supply over demand equation settles between them.
Besides the misinformation most mothers have towards their breast milk’s first few days, might feel uncomfortable with the practice, because of the pain and discomfort it causes or because it has become so unpopular through the years. So they switch to artificial milk, hoping they will make their lives easier. However, Dr. Saba asks: “what is more demanding between naturally feeding your child anywhere, anytime and free or charge and between cleaning a bottle, sterilizing it, keeping clean safe water on hand and enough amounts of powder milk?”
The lucky ones who make it through the first month, usually become self conscious toward their eating and drinking habits, concerned that it’ll affect their babies’ digestive system or worse, their breast milk supply. Some increase their food intake; others remove food categories from their diets, while some come up with special ingredients and formulas believed to make wonders. Nonetheless, the major factor that impacts the supply is a high intake of water, since it 80% of the breast milk. It explains why women everywhere in the world can breastfeed, regardless of what or how much they eat.
All that sounds pretty simple and yet, there is one priceless element every mother needs dearly: encouragement and lots of it, from her spouse, her circle of family and friends, and last but not least, from society.