Breast Feeding

Human milk is the ultimate form of early nutrition for children, and the search for the ideal substitution infant formula will never be concluded satisfactorily.

Dr.Yap-Seng Chong, BMJ September 20, 2003

The year 2003 marks the 12th annual World Breastfeeding Week. It is celebrated on the 40th week of the year (October 1-7) because from conception to birth, breast feeding is initiated on the 40th week.

One would think that breast feeding would be a natural sequential process after pregnancy and birth. Body’s hormonal system is designed in such a way that the breasts are ready with milk when the baby arrives.

Then why have World Breastfeeding Week?

A report shows that in Canada, the overall rate of breast feeding initiation was 75 percent in 1991 and 1992. Fifty-four percent of women were still breast feeding at three months and 30 percent at six months of age.

In 1995, 60 percent of women in the United States were breastfeeding either exclusively or in combination with formula feeding at the time of hospital discharge; only 22 percent of mothers were nursing at six months, and many of these were supplementing with formula, says another report.

The target is to have more than 75 percent of mothers breastfeed their babies in the early postpartum period and to have at least 50 percent to continue breastfeeding until their babies are six months old

What are the obstacles to the initiation and continuation of breastfeeding?

There are many. These include physician apathy and misinformation, insufficient prenatal breastfeeding education, disruptive hospital policies, inappropriate interruption of breastfeeding, early hospital discharge, lack of timely routine follow-up care and postpartum home health visits.

Other obstacles are: mother’s place of employment (especially in the absence of workplace facilities and support for breastfeeding), lack of broad societal support, media portrayal of bottle-feeding as normative, and commercial promotion of infant formula through distribution of hospital discharge packs, coupons for free or discounted formula, and television and general magazine advertising.

These obstacles will have to be removed to encourage young mothers to provide the best possible care for their infants.

Extensive research has shown compelling advantages to infants, mothers, families, and society from breastfeeding and the use of human milk for infant feeding. These include health, nutritional, immunologic, developmental, psychological, social, economic, and environmental benefits.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society have recommended breast feeding as the preferred mode of infant feeding.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF have developed explicit guidelines to encourage breast feeding around the world.

More information can be obtained by visiting the websites of these organizations. Locally, you can phone Community Health Services (403-502-8200) and get more information and help.

All communities worldwide need to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. And to remove barriers which inhibit young mothers to feed their infants on demand. We should encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding for at least six months.

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