There is no question that, whenever possible, breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your baby.
Late in pregnancy, your body produces a substance called colostrum, which is a very concentrated form of breast milk that is high in protein. Colostrum helps your newborn develop a healthy immune system by providing antibodies and immunoglobulins to give your newborn everything they need in those first few days of life.
Within a few days, your body will stop producing colostrum and switch to normal breast milk. Breast milk has been designed by nature as the perfect food for babies. It contains fats and proteins that are gentle for the developing digestive system, and its nutritional content changes over time to meet your growing baby's needs. It serves as a natural laxative that helps prevent constipation and prevents babies from overfeeding, which reduces the risk that your baby will gain too much weight.
Finally, breast milk helps protect your baby from disease by supplying antibodies from your body that boost your baby's developing immune system. Allergies to breast milk are exceptionally rare, in contrast to allergies to the cow's milk found in formula.
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and then breastfeed with the addition of complementary food until the age of 2. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also recommends that breastfeeding continue for two full years. The WHO has a goal that, globally, 50% of infants will be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months, by 2025. This will be a challenge in the Middle East (GCC countries), where breastfeeding rates have fallen over the last three decades.
Breastfed infants benefit from their improved nutritional start in life. There is a suggestion that breastfeeding improves a baby’s overall cognitive development. Furthermore, the benefits of breastfeeding have been shown to extend into childhood and beyond, with reduced risk of:
- Necrotising enterocolitis
- Ear infections (otitis media)
- Respiratory tract infections
- Diabetes type 2
- Childhood leukaemia
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Al-Nuaimi, N, et al. “Breastfeeding Trends and Determinants Implications and Recommendations for Gulf Cooperation Council Countries.” Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, vol. 17, no. 2, May 2017, pp. e155–e161., doi:10.18295/squmj.2016.17.02.004.
- “Global Nutrition Targets 2025: Policy Brief Series.” World Health Organisation, www.who.int/nutrition/publications/globaltargets2025_policybrief_overview/en/.
- Victoria, C G, et al. “Breastfeeding in the 21st Century: Epidemiology, Mechanisms, and Lifelong Effect.” Lancet, vol. 387, no. 10017, 30 Jan. 2016, pp. 475–490., doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)01024-7.
- “While Progress to Date Has Been Encouraging, Significantly More than Half of the World's Children Are Not as Yet Being Optimally Breastfed.” UNICEF, www.unicef.org/programme/breastfeeding/challenge.htm.
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