Breastfeeding is nature’s way of providing the best start in life for our babies but society doesn’t always support breastfeeding. Every year August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week, aimed at encouraging breastfeeding and to improve the health and survival of babies across the world.
According to the World Health Organisation, about 820 000 children’s lives would be saved every year if breastfeeding was increased.
New-born’s should be put to the breast within the first hour of birth – their sucking reflex already works perfectly. The mother’s first milk provides essential nutrients and also antibodies to protect them against common diseases. Even the closeness to the mother’s body is important for warmth.
Babies should ideally be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their life and should continue after solid food is introduced. Breastfeeding provides balanced nutrients, protects babies against many diseases, and has even been shown to increase their intelligence. And it’s much cheaper than formula.
However, both mom and dad need support to be able to feed their baby according to the above recommendations. The slogan for Breastfeeding Week this year is “Empower parents, enable breastfeeding”.
Mothers need help to establish breastfeeding and this should start in the delivery room and be continue throughout the mother’s stay in hospital. Society should accept that breastfeeding is natural and, as long as they do so discreetly, people shouldn’t be intolerant of mothers feeding their children in public places.
Legislation providing for maternity and paternity leave goes a long way in supporting breastfeeding. Fathers can do a lot to help shoulder household responsibilities and tasks like comforting baby after a feed; this gives them the chance to also bond with their child.
Employers, in particular, can do a lot more to help mothers to continue breastfeeding once back at work. Assistance includes provision for feeding breaks or shorter hours, a clean and comfortable space for mothers to feed or express and store milk, and on-site childcare facilities. Studies have shown that where employers support new parents there is less absenteeism and improved retention of skilled workers.