August 1-7 is the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), a week set aside to draw attention to the importance and benefits of breastfeeding.
The slogan and theme for WBW 2016 is breastfeeding: A key to sustainable development.
This year's WBW theme asserts the importance of breastfeeding as key element in getting us to think about how to value our wellbeing from the start of life, how to respect one another and care for the world we share as we think about the sustainable developmental goals.
It is even more appropriate as the term 'disgusting' is gaining popularity as a descriptive term for breastfeeding in public places worldwide.
Human breast milk refers to the milk produced by a mother to feed her baby. It provides the primary source of nutrition for newborns before they are able to eat and digest other food.
During the first few days after delivery, the breast produce colostrum. This is a thin yellowish fluid which is the same fluid that leaks from the breasts during pregnancy.
It is rich in protein and antibodies that provide passive immunity to the baby (the baby's immune system is not fully developed at birth).
Colostrum also helps the newborn's digestive system to grow and function properly. This obviously makes invalid the assertion that the colostrum is dirty milk and does not need to be given to the child.
The breastmilk changes and increases in quantity about 48 to 72 hours after giving birth. It may take longer depending on when breastfeeding is started and how often breastfeeding is done. The change in milk occurs a little earlier if one has breastfed before.
Besides the colostrum, there are:
When a mother starts to breastfeed, the first milk the baby receives is called foremilk. It is thin and watery with a light blue tinge. Foremilk is largely water needed to satisfy the baby’s thirst.
Hind-milk is released after several minutes of nursing. It is similar in texture to cream and has the highest concentration of fat. The hind-milk has a relaxing effect on the baby, helps the baby to feel satisfied and contributes to the child gaining weight.
The following facts extol virtues of breastmilk against formula milk;
Protein in breast milk is mostly whey, which is easier to digest than casein (main protein in cow's milk). Protein of breast milk has high amounts of amino acid taurine which has an important role in the development of the brain and the eyes.
Fats in breast milk are practically self-digesting because breast milk also contains lipase, an enzyme responsible for the digestion of fat.
Fat is the main source of calories for babies - and babies need lots of calories to grow well. Also, fat in human milk has large amounts of certain essential fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids which are important for brain development.
Vitamins and minerals in human milk are bioavailable - meaning they get absorbed well. Breast milk contains substances that enhance the absorption of minerals and vitamins.
Breast milk has been shown to affect an infant's gene expression. Breast milk and formula have different effects on at least 146 genes.
Most of the genes enhanced by breast milk promote quick development of the intestine and immune system.
For example, some of the genes positively affected by breast milk protect against "leaky gut".
Each feeding mother delivers millions of living white blood cells to the baby to help fight off all kinds of diseases. This will not be found in formula.
Also, when a mother is exposed to a germ, she makes antibodies to that germ and gives these antibodies to the infant via the breast milk.
Breast milk has lots of digestive enzymes and also many hormones. These all contribute to the baby's well being.
Every year, scientists find more valuable substances in breast milk. Science is only beginning to understand what all there is in human milk that helps baby's growth and development.
Breastfeeding prevents obesity. Formula-fed babies are more likely to be obese during adolescence. Longer periods of breastfeeding greatly reduce the risk of overweight in adulthood.
Formula-fed babies have worse jaw alignment and are more likely to need orthodontic work as they get older.
This is probably because the sucking action during breastfeeding improves the development of facial muscles and the shape of the palate.
Bottle fed babies have worse vision and get more ear infections than breast-fed infants.
Bottle-fed infants and children have more and more severe upper respiratory infections, wheezing, pneumonia and influenza. They have more diarrhoea, more gastrointestinal infections and constipation compared to their breastfed counterparts.
Formula-fed babies have a raised risk of heart disease, juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, asthma and allergy.
Breastfeeding may also play a role in preventing digestive diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, as well as childhood cancers.
If you give your infant the unique food, his or her body will function in a healthier way in all aspects.
Astom2@yahoo.com. A member of paediatric society of Ghana