World Breastfeeding Week: Supporting the mother is crucial for the baby's health

by Otávio Clark | Aug 4, 2016

Breastfeeding is an act of caring and love, and it also can save lives. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), breastfeeding can reduce the mortality rate of children younger than 2 by 13%. During World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, in more than 170 countries, WHO intends to draw attention to how this simple act can benefit the health of mother and baby and contribute to sustainable development.

“Breastfeeding is free, natural, practical, and does not waste natural resources,” says pediatrician Valéria Clemente, market access, projects & clinical research director of Evidências - Kantar Health. “Moreover, it is one of the few things in life that the more you give, the more you have.”

According to a major study published earlier this year by the British journal The Lancet, breastfeeding helps prevent more than 800,000 deaths in children under the age 2. This is because breast milk is able to significantly decrease the number of occurrences of respiratory infections and diarrhea. But breast milk can bring other benefits to the child. Babies who are exclusively breastfed until 6 months present a lower risk of developing asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, anemia, and even becoming obese or overweight in adolescence. In addition, breast sucking during breastfeeding contributes to the development of the dental arch of the child, strengthening the muscles of the face and the jaw, and preparing them for learning speech. Also, some studies suggest that breastfeeding contributes to the cognitive development of children.

“Breast milk is the perfect food for the baby. It contains all the nutrients and minerals that the child needs until 6 months old. No formula can imitate it,” Clemente says. “Not to mention that one of the greatest benefits of breastfeeding is the bond developed between the mother and the baby; this extremely strong emotional link unites them and gives them security and comfort.”

Special care with mothers

Breastfeeding also benefits mothers. First, it helps the uterus return to its normal size and contributes to weight loss. It also reduces a woman’s risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes after pregnancy and protects against breast and ovarian cancers.

But even though breastfeeding is a natural act, it is something that must be learned – and that is not always easy. Many researchers have shown that mothers need support and guidance to be able to breastfeed properly – and good prenatal care is extremely important for that to happen.

Furthermore, it is important that mothers receive support even after their return to work. Last year, the Brazilian Ministry of Health held a breastfeeding campaign encouraging employers to create a milk bank space for mothers and also to make available daycare centers close to work. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has also created booklets to encourage breastfeeding, offering guidance on the support that family and community can give to mothers.

“There is a heavy burden that society imposes on the mother about breastfeeding, because women need to breastfeed, and sometimes, for many reasons, a woman may have difficulties or may be unable to do so, and she will feel like she is a bad mother because she is not able to breastfeed her own child. So mothers need a lot of care, attention and support to cope with this situation,” Clemente says. “For breastfeeding to happen properly, it is necessary that women have support from their family, from health professionals and from society through awareness campaigns, education and even laws, such as maternity leave and appropriate spaces for breastfeeding, etc.”

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