The benefits of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding has been proved to have amazing health benefits both for the mother and the child. With “Breast is Best” campaigns spreading all around the world, nowadays many new moms choose to breastfeed their children. Scientists have already admitted that so far they are not able to create a formula that copies breast milk, because every time they manage to incorporate a new compound found in mother’s milk into formula, two more are discovered in breast milk. Additionally, breast milk changes constantly as the baby grows. Colostrum, the first milk that the mother produces once her baby is born, is loaded with nutrients that act as natural immunization against many pathogens. As the baby develops, the consistency of the milk changes as well, to suit the child’s nutritional needs. And the milk produced by mothers of preemies is also very different. Well done, mother nature!

Breastfeeding still a taboo

Still, breastfeeding is a taboo even in the western world. Women who choose to breastfeed do so at the comfort of their home, but are hesitant of breastfeeding outside and as a result they will often supplement with formula when they are outside of the house. This has been proven to reduce both milk production and the child’s healthy attachment to breast milk. Despite these well-known facts, women breastfeeding publicly are often scolded and asked to go breastfeed in the bathroom or cover up, which makes breastfeeding harder, especially for new moms, who try to get the hang of it. Things are even more complicated in developing countries or areas, where women need to go back to work right after birth. Taking the time to breastfeed a child seems like a waste of time and often children end up being malnourished and with a very week immune system.

Indian traditions

Such is the case in many rural areas of India, where newborns are given goat’s milk or water mixed with honey as their first food. In Bheetardari, India, the vast majority of children is stunt, because of these practices. It is no surprise that 57 percent of the child population being less than five years old, as many children die before they turn five and most of them will die within the first 28 days of their life. According to this very interesting article, if the child born is a girl, there are even fewer chances that the mother will take the time to breastfeed her. And is she is the second or third daughter, she has even less chances to escape malnutrition and survive. Girls are still seen as a burden in many rural areas of India. However, despite the norms of the local society, a group of inspiring lactation consultants are working hard to make sure that all children will survive and be in good health.

A positive change

Sumi Mardi is one of these people, who are trying to teach women the importance of breastfeeding the first hour after birth and of course, the months that will follow. The first hour and day after a newborn comes to life is very important, because this is when the mother’s colostrum is the richest in antibodies. When Sumi got pregnant and gave birth to her own child, she used herself as an example for the women in her community. She explained to her mother in law the benefits of breastfeeding and when a relative brought honey as a gift to give to the newborn the first hours of her life, her mother in law politely declined the gift. This is a great example of how even the previous generation can understand the issues with certain traditions and help support the new generation into their breastfeeding attempts.

UNICEF is training counselors in many states in India, in an attempt to provide enough knowledge and support to mothers who want their children not only to survive, but also develop normally and be as healthy as possible. More and more families are abandoning the water/milk and honey mixture as an infant formula and offer breast milk to their children. Husbands were also convinced, when they realized they would save lots of money this way, since breast milk is for free! Well, a counselor has to do what a counselor has to do!