Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet

Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet

Baby Steps

Monday, August 10, 2020

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IN the Caribbean, breastfeeding initiation within the first hour of birth is fairly high; however, continued exclusive breastfeeding for six months is low, at approximately 39 per cent. The benefits of breastfeeding are tremendous for both mother and baby. Breast milk, which is specially designed to meet the health needs of a growing baby, provides protection against infections and illness, including ear infections, diarrhoea, and pneumonia.

This nutrient-rich product is the first line of a baby's defence against infections. Packed with many properties, breast milk is ultimately the best source of nutrition for a new baby. Antibodies protect against allergy and infection, and Vitamin A prevents eye disease. As the baby's first immunity, it also helps prevent jaundice and contains fats that are necessary for brain development.

Breastfeeding can also help to prevent childhood obesity and maternal obesity, which are important risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. If we are to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) later in life, mothers should try to feed their babies exclusively on breast milk for the first six months of life. Ending breastfeeding too early and introducing other foods into baby's diet at the wrong time, remain one of the greatest threats to a child's health.

Breastfeeding provides a healthy, non-polluting, sustainable and natural source of nutrition, and also provides a great way for mothers to bond with their babies. Costing far less than an artificial product, very little is wasted as baby stops feeding when satisfied, once correctly positioned and attached. Breastfeeding also has health benefits for the mother. Mothers who breastfeed have lower rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.

This year, World Breastfeeding Week was celebrated August 1-7, under the theme 'Support Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet'. It is aligned with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 – Good Health and Well-being. This theme focuses on the impact of infant feeding on the environment, in this era of climate change, and the importance of promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding to maintain good health.

This is in keeping with the Caribbean Public Health Agency's life course approach for the prevention of NCDs, of which breastfeeding is a key factor. The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) encourages mothers to see breastfeeding as the optimal feeding method for infants from the first hour of their birth, to at least six months after, with continued breastfeeding up to age two or beyond, along with complementary food.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, it is only natural for new mothers or expectant mothers to have concerns about their breast milk, breastfeeding and transmitting the virus to their babies. There is no evidence to date of COVID-19 presence in breast milk, or transmission via breast milk. Because of the benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding, and the negative effects of stopping it, it is recommended that mothers continue to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding continues to protect baby against death and morbidity throughout infancy and beyond, due to the anti-infective properties of breast milk, including colostrum, and the long-lasting transfer of immunological competence and memory. Standard feeding guidelines should continue with appropriate precautions for infection, prevention and control.

Above is an excerpt from the statement sent by CARPHA in observance of World Breastfeeding Week 2020.

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