How breastfeeding benefits mothers

AS part of the commemoration of World Breastfeeding Week, which centres around the theme “Enabling Breastfeeding in the Workplace,” Medical practitioners have highlighted the potential impacts of breastfeeding on both maternal health and child’s development.

The week-long event is held at the beginning of August.

The experts noted that while exclusive breastfeeding may have a significant impact on the mother, it also shapes the proper development of children, as some studies have shown that ‘proper’ breastfeeding increases IQs.

Breastmilk, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is the ideal food for infants; safe and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses. It also 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.

Despite its importance, fewer than half of infants under six months old are exclusively breastfed as inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates and duration worldwide, WHO noted.

Speaking on the advantages of breastfeeding to mother and child, a Public health physician and Founder of Quinta Health, Adewumi Babatunde Enoch, explained that breastfeeding offers numerous health benefits, ranging from optimal growth and development, nutritional superiority, digestibility, lower risk of infections among others.

“Breast milk is uniquely tailored to meet the nutritional needs of a growing infant, providing a balanced mix of proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. It also contains antibodies and immune factors that help protect the baby from infections and diseases. Breast milk supports the optimal growth and development of the baby’s brain, nervous system, and other organs due to its composition of essential nutrients.”

He also noted that breast milk can easily be digested while also reducing the likelihood of digestive issues like constipation or stomach upset.

Breastfed babies tend to have a lower risk of various infections, including respiratory and gastrointestinal infections like diarrhoea, as well as a reduced risk of certain chronic conditions such as allergies, asthma, and obesity, according to Enoch.

On his part, Resident in Internal Medicine and Health influencer Olusina Ajidahun said nature has made breast milk nutritious and enough for a baby in the first six months.

“Breast milk is very nutritious, and the good thing about breast milk is the way nature has made it…in the first six months of a child’s life. It contains almost everything the child needs. I’m sure you hear the concept of exclusive breastfeeding, which means you are to give the child only breast milk for the first six months. No water, no baby food or nothing.  

“Just to give a little about what breast milk contains; Well, it’s rich in carbohydrates, of which lactose is the major one. It’s also rich in fats and has proteins. Proteins like something called lactoferrin and also it also has immune antibodies. Antibodies are like chemicals (let me put it that way since I am trying to use non-medical words) that help to fight against infections. There are also vitamins there. You also have white blood cells in the breast milk that help the baby to fight infection.”

He mentioned that studies have indicated that breastfeeding reduces the likelihood of infants contracting various illnesses, such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, meningitis, and allergic conditions like asthma, eczema, and even childhood obesity.

“Breast milk is usually easy for the baby to digest, except the babies have some conditions in which they cannot digest some components of the breast milk.”

Importance on mothers

The importance of breastfeeding also extends to reducing certain diseases in mothers who exclusively breastfeed their babies.

Breastfeeding reduces the risk of some cancers, such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer, according to Ajidahun.

He added, “Studies have shown that when a mother breastfeeds the baby, it also helps to contract the uterus. After a woman delivers, the uterus, at some point, is still a bit soft, so breastfeeding actually increases the production of oxytocin, which helps to contract the uterus and reduces the chances of what we call postpartum haemorrhage in the mother. It also helps mother and baby to bond on a very, very intimate part.

“And it is cheap. I mean, it is natural. It comes right away from the mother’s breast. You’re not buying baby food. Spending money on baby food. So those are some benefits.”

Similarly, Enoch explained that breastfeeding helps women shed pregnancy weight more effectively, as it burns extra calories while it reduces the risk of postpartum depression while adding that it is cost-saving, convenient, always available, and requires no preparation or sterilisation of equipment. 

How long can one breastfeed a child?

While it’s important to note that breastfeeding is important in a child’s development, the recommended duration for breastfeeding can vary based on individual circumstances and cultural practices. 

However, WHO recommends that exclusive breastfeeding should continue for at least six months of the child’s growth.

Although the WHO stated that the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding has increased by 10 to 48 per cent globally in the last decade, the barriers women and families face to achieve their breastfeeding goals must be addressed to reach the global 2030 target of 70 per cent.

Speaking on the duration, Enoch said breastfeeding with complementary goods should continue for at least one year or longer.

He said, “Breastfeeding can be continued for as long as both the mother and child desire. Breast milk remains a valuable source of nutrition and comfort as the child grows. It’s important to note that these recommendations are general guidelines, and the decision to breastfeed and for how long is a personal one that should take into account various factors, including the mother’s health, the baby’s needs, family dynamics, and individual preferences.”

Improved maternity leave, creation & support to fund Breast milk banks, and advocating for baby-friendly hospitals are some of the ways suggested to improve breastfeeding.

Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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