I am a breastfeeding advocate and supporter. To date, I am currently breastfeeding my 8-month old baby and to me it is the most natural way of nourishing your child. Unfortunately, because of the rapid marketing and influential advertising of infant formula companies especially here in the Philippines, most parents choose to bottle-feed their children using infant formula.
The 7th National Nutrition Survey (DOST-FNRI) revealed that among infants 0-5 months old, only 36 out of every 100 were exclusively breastfed; only 37 of every 100 were breastfed at the same time given a complementary food and as many as 27 out of every 100 infants were given other milk and other food.
It’s understandable. Breastfeeding is never easy. Mothers may encounter problems with inverted nipples, tongue-tied babies, biting during teething, clogged ducts, mastitis from oversupply to name a few.
In my experience, it was only on the third day that baby Pj and I got to have that deep, perfect latch. It takes both the mom and the baby to be able to achieve that and I am extremely thankful we were able to do so. Imagine all the inconsolable crying and sleepless nights we both had to endure. Luckily enough, we were assisted by heaven-sent midwives who were of great help in helping us with positioning and latching. My husband asked for donor’s milk during our struggling stage. The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” is certainly true for us for if it wasn’t for my husband, mother, Pj’s nanny, breastfeeding support groups, neighbors and friends, I would have given up on breastfeeding a long time ago.
Some mothers believe it is more convenient to give infant formula through a bottle than to breastfeed. Little do they know that this practice compromises their baby’s health at an early stage which may lead to long-term malnutrition in adulthood. Infant formula contains more than 50% sugar, added fats and proteins, synthetic vitamins and minerals compared to breast milk. In addition to that, infant formula is actually a sputum or phlegm-former. The occurrence of cough and colds can be significantly reduced when you avoid formula feeding. If prepared in an unhygienic way, the risk of introducing bacteria to a newborn baby is very high.
This image from the World Health Organization shows you a good summary of the benefits that breastfeeding provides for both the mother and the baby. For me, it goes beyond ten and increases as the baby grows into a toddler.
1. Saves life
According to DOH, babies who were not breastfed in the first 6 months of their lives are 25 times more likely to die than those who experienced exclusive breastfeeding from the time they were born. It is because of a high risk of infection from colds, viruses, pneumonia, diarrhea, allergies, ear infection, influenza, meningitis and urinary tract infections. Risk for long-term chronic illnesses such as type I diabetes, celiac disease and Crohn’s disease are also significantly reduced by breastfeeding. The risk of re-hospitalization of babies from discharge to 30 months decreased by 5%. I would attest to this as baby Pj to date was never re-hospitalized and just goes there for well-baby check-ups. Praise God!
2. Provides nutrients
Fact: Breast milk is complete and sufficient for your baby. The DOH Philippines recognizes Breastfeeding TSek:
Tama or Correct: with skin-to-skin contact and initiation within the first hour of life or Unang Yakap
Sapat or Sufficient: to encourage and assure mothers that their milk supply within the first week is sufficient even if they don’t feel that they have enough milk and that the gradual increase in full milk comes in response to the babies’ needs
Ekslusibo or Exclusive: that giving only breast milk and nothing else (no pacifiers, no water, no food) for the first SIX months of life is essential, then proceed to giving complementary food for the baby in addition to breast milk which still is the baby’s main source of nutrition
Breast milk is custom-made to provide for the growing baby. Colostrum, which comes out at post-delivery, is a yellowish type of breast milk due to its fatty composition that contains a chunk-full of antibodies that protects the newborn. It is low in volume compared to full milk which usually comes in after 3-4 days necessary for the growing baby.
Breast milk also changes its composition as the baby grows and in response to his needs. This photo compared the regularly expressed breast milk (L) and the milk expressed hours later when the baby started feeling sick (R) which almost resembles colostrum, which is full of antibodies.
3. Ensures cleanliness
Breastfeeding won’t require you to purchase, use, wash, sterilize bottles, teats and covers. When I am not directly feeding my baby, a cup similar to the size of a shot glass or jigger with expressed milk is what the nanny uses to feed the baby. It can be easily cleaned with soap and water. Cleanliness is maintained with just breastfeeding the baby. In terms of hygiene and safety, WHO stated that, “When infant formula is not properly prepared, there are risks arising from the use of unsafe water and unsterilized equipment or the potential presence of bacteria in powdered formula.” That’s the reason why infant formula has to be prepared with warm water (about 70 degree Celsius). I highly doubt those take-out bottles with milk I often see in strollers of babies at the malls are warmed enough to that 70 degree requirement.
4. Makes a strong and intelligent baby
Breast milk enhances brain development and improves cognitive development. Studies by the American Academy of Pediatricians conclude that among the extremely low birth weight infants that a 10/ml per day increase in breast milk intake of infants increased the mental developmental index by 0.59 points, the psychomotor developmental index by 0.56 pts and total behavior percentile score by 0.99 points using the Bayley Mental Developmental Score. According to the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), the average I.Q. of 7 and 8 year old children who were breastfed as infants was 10 points higher than their bottle-fed counterparts.
5. Breaks the cycle of diarrhea and malnutrition
Breastfed babies are generally able to tolerate different kinds of food when introduced after 6 months of age. I noticed this with my baby because of the wide range of food he was able to like and continuously eat from sweet pears, bitter gourd, radish and green mangoes. It is said that the baby is introduced to different flavors when breastfed depending on what the mother eats. That is probably why it wasn’t so difficult to feed Pj each and every meal.
Benefits of breastfeeding up to toddler years are summarized in this photo.
6. Bonds the mother and the baby
Need I say more about bonding? Breastfeeding provides far more than food or nourishment. It provides comfort, warmth, protection and security. It builds familiarity with the parent – child relationship. It engages language discovery, enhances brain activity, promotes sleep, reduces newborn stress and releases medicinal antibodies when a baby is sick. It assures the baby that his needs are met and that alone can increase brain development and build trust with parents. It can improve visual development with eye-to-eye contact. Breastfeeding while co-sleeping actually reduces the risk of SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome because the brain portion responsible for alertness is heightened during sucking both for the baby and the mother.
Most importantly, it demonstrates the love and sacrifice of a mother – two of the things a mother provides for her child.
7. Reduces the mother’s risk of cancers
Breastfeeding not only reduces risk of cancers for babies, but for mothers as well. Studies have shown a lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer for breastfeeding moms, two of the most common cancers for women. For moms with gestational diabetes like me, breastfeeding can reduce the risk of having Type II Diabetes later on in life. The calories burned during breastfeeding is responsible for this since breast milk contains 20 calories per ounce so if you feed your baby 20 ounces a day, that’s 400 calories already burned from your body. This is the reason why lactating mothers are encouraged to add 650 calories more in their diet from the first six months of the baby and 500 calories in the succeeding months. I know I eat a LOT before, during and after nursing. 🙂
Breastfeeding also provides better healing for mother post-delivery. The hormone oxytocin released when your baby nurses helps your uterus contract which reduces post-delivery blood loss. Your uterus then returns to its normal size more quickly – at about six weeks postpartum, compared with 10 weeks if you don’t breastfeed.
8. Helps space pregnancies
As a natural form of contraception, the LAM or Lactational Amenorrhea Method is achieved through breastfeeding. Provided that a lactating woman has (a) been directly breastfeeding on-demand, day and night, exclusively for six months meaning the infant receives no other liquid or food, not even water, in addition to breast milk, (b) not had her period returned which is an indication of ovulation and, (c) given birth for the last six months, breastfeeding provides at least 98% protection from pregnancy.
9. Saves money
Breastfeeding is free. Well, almost. As I have mentioned, I never got to use any bottle, teats and pacifiers for my baby. The only bottles I use would be storage bottles for my milk and to save space, I also store them in sterile plastic bags. All else would be provided for by breast milk. With breastfeeding, you will never have to buy an expensive 500gram milk formula worth Php2700( $60) weekly. That’s roughly P10,000($240) savings a month! Not to mention the bottles, teats for every month or week, distilled water, sterilizer, milk warmer and all the accessories that come along with feeding with infant formula. Breastfeeding really is economical.
10. Protects the environment
With the climate change and environmental problems accruing the earth each year, breastfeeding can greatly reduces pollution simply by providing natural and non-chemically processed food for the baby. Imagine, how many cows would it take to produce a can of formula for each child in a day? With breastfeeding, you can reduce the ammonia output from farmlands. You can reduce plastic wastes from worn-out teats and stained bottles. You can reduce the number of hospitalizations and medical costs for illnesses brought about by formula feeding. It benefits everybody.
Aside from all these, breastfeeding can help working moms with lesser time off from work due to hospitalization or a sickly child. It can help a mother get more sleep with lesser time fixing up a drink for the baby every time he gets hungry – just pull up your shirt and nurse. Breastfeeding can strengthen relationships with parents, in-laws and co-workers who may be pumping or expressing milk at the office. It can help strengthen your relationship with your husband or partners by providing immeasurable amount of support. It is the perfect way to nourish a child. It is God’s creation.
“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.” For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem (Isaiah 66:10-13)
I would like to reiterate my advocacy for breastfeeding is not meant to demoralize any mother feeding her baby using infant formula. The same goes true for those using bottles, teats and pacifiers. I do have friends and relatives who chose to wean their baby early or chose not to breastfeed at all. They are not less of a mother to me. They should not be condemned because they still choose to feed their hungry baby. I do encourage moms to seek support, do some research on pregnancy and breastfeeding, and prepare yourselves so you can be successful in nursing your baby. A healthy baby makes every mommy happy. 🙂