How breastfeeding puts mothers and babies first

It’s World Breastfeeding Week from 1 to 7 August, and we’re exploring the mental, physical and social benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies.

Public breastfeeding is still frowned upon in many societies, despite the crucial role breask milk plays in childhood development. Normalising public breastfeeding means that babies can receive the nutrition they need, when they need it, without mothers feeling unnecessarily shamed.

Why is breastfeeding considered so vital? According to research in The Lancet, if all babies were breastfed for the first six months of their lives, more than 820 000 infacnt deaths could be prevented annually. That’s because breast milk contains a potent cocktail of nutrients and infection-fighting antibodies.

Not every mother can or will choose to breastfeed, and we shouldn’t be overly critical of those who don’t. But for those who do, here are just a few more reasons why creating safe, accepting spaces for breastfeeding is necessary.

1. It’s the best milk

The nutrients contained in breast milk surpass those present in any formula on the market. The combination of fat, sodium, protein, calcium and iron it contains plays an important role in your baby’s mental and physical development, and even more crucially in premature babies.

2. It protects your baby (long after they stop nursing)

Breastfed babies have naturally stronger immune systems and are less likely to suffer from digestive conditions and respiratory illnesses (meaning less time off work for parents, too). Breastfeesing is also believed to significantly lower a baby’s chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

But the benefits last well past infancy. Breastfed babies are believed to grow into children and teens who are less likely to suffer allergies or to experience obesity or cardiovascular disease later in life.

3. It adapts with your baby’s needs

Colostrum, the thick milky fluid produced in the first few days after giving birth, packs a powerful punch of nutrition and antibodies to help a newborn survive its first week or two in the world. After that, regular breast milk provides 100% of the energy and nutrients a baby needs for its first few months.

Around six months, when your baby moves on to solid foods, breast milk can still provide them with up to half their nutritional needs. At the age of one, it will still provide for about a third of their needs, and continue to support their development and growth.

4. Mothers reap the benefits too

According to the WHO, women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Some studies have also suggested that it reduces maternal risk of type-2 diabetes and hight blood pressure.

At a more day-to-day level, breastfeeding triggers the release of oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’, which helps to reduce stress and promote feelings of relaxation – something every new mom could use more of.

5. It’s the money-savvy option

We’re in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, but one thing that isn’t getting more expensive is breast milk. This nutrient-rich wonder food is free – not the mention the fact it alleviates the admin of lugging around bottles or having to make sure milk is the right temperature. Beyond the physical benefits it offers babies and mothers, breastfeeding makes economic sense, too.

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