Often, we as health workers support mothers to successfully breastfeed their babies. Globally, it is known that breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child’s health and survival. However, contrary to the World Health Organization recommendations, fewer than half of infants under 6 months old are exclusively breastfed. Yet, breastmilk is the ideal food for infants because it is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses.
Additionally, breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year of life. Available evidence also shows that breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese and are less prone to getting diabetes later in life. Women who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
In our day-to-day clinical practice in health facilities, as health workers, mothers sneak into the facilities with formula feeds and sometimes packed glucose to feed their newborns without notifying the health providers. This is not any different for these mothers in the community once they get discharged from the health facilities. When asked, the mothers usually report that they do not have enough breast milk to feed their bundles of joy.
Well, as health workers, there are scenarios where we advise mothers or caretakers to feed their newborns or infants on formula feeds. For example, in cases of death of a mother, near miss where the mother is put in the intensive care unit. However, with improved technology, mothers are sensitized on breast-milk donation to help feed those babies without mothers and those with debilitating diseases which cannot allow them to breastfeed the babies on their own.
We have also noted that maternal and paternal infant feeding attitudes are strong predictors of the choice of feeding method and breastfeeding duration. Usually, parents of breastfed infants are more knowledgeable about the benefits of breastfeeding and have more favourable attitudes toward, breastfeeding than parents of formula-fed infants.
We therefore encourage mothers to initiate breastfeeding of children within the first hour of birth and exclusively breastfeed them for the first 6 months of life, meaning, no other foods or liquids are given to the baby, including water. Lastly, infants should be breastfed on demand, that is, as often as the child wants, day and night.
The authors are; Nabagereka Victoria; a BSc Nurse working with Medsafe Hospital, Kampala and
Lilian Nuwabaine Luyima; a BSc Nurse, MSN-Midwife and Women’s Health Specialist