Exclusive breastfeeding can be defined as feeding an infant only breast-milk and no other food or water. Exclusive breastfeeding also includes feeding expressed breast-milk through nasogastric tube and administration of medicated drops and syrups (vitamins, minerals).
Breastfeeding is significant in the sustainability of baby’s health. In order to reduce and prevent infant and under 5 child mortality in low income countries, exclusive breastfeeding has been recommended to parents in these regions. Exclusive breastfeeding has been estimated to prevent 13% of under 5 child mortality in low income countries like Nigeria.
Assisting a breastfeeding mother is time consuming at the beginning but rewarding in a healthier population. Breastfeeding rate are influenced by socio-economic factors, education, religion and support services. Health experts have a responsibility to prepare mothers for breastfeeding and promote and protect breastfeeding practices in the society. Some recommended infant feeding practices include: exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months, timely initiation of breastfeeding with half an hour of normal delivery and within four hours of caesarean section, timely initiation of complementary feed at 6 month, and continuing breastfeeding well into the second year.
Breastfeeding is economical, physiological and convenient. Breast milk is rich in essential fatty acids, long chain polyunsaturated fats (LCP), lactose and phospholipids. It also supplies enzymes including lipoprotein lipase, amylase and lacto-peroxidases. These enzymes increase digestibility and act as defence against microbes. Long chain polyunsaturated fats promote brain growth and reduce the risk of dyslexia and hyperactivity. It is well known that breast milk is superior to artificial milk.
The protein in breastmilk is predominantly whey protein (80%) and is rich in alpha (α) lactglobulin and lactoferrin. Lactalbumin is rich in tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin which plays an important role as a neurotransmitter. Lactoferrin ensures abortion iron and zinc is bacteriostatic. Breastmilk also ensure transfer of material antibodies and T-lymphocytes and protection against some infectious diseases. Exclusively breastfed babies have been shown to have higher intelligence quotient and may have higher mathematical abilities than artificial fed babies.
Breastfed babies are also less prone to infections, asthma and others allergic disorders. Breastfeeding is also beneficial to mothers as well. It reduces the risk of uterine, ovarian and breast cancer, reduce postpartum bleeding, helps in child spacing, promote early uterine involution and promotes post-partum weight loss. Also, with each pregnancy the risk of breast ptosis and change in shape increases, but breastfeeding doesn’t seem to worsen these effects. Expectant mothers are assured that breastfeeding has nothing to do with breast appearances, during or after breastfeeding. Any false the idea that breastfeeding will affect the mother’s breast should be debunked.
Nonetheless, artificial milk is expensive and not ideal for human body especially that of babies. Some babies are said to developed intolerant to artificial milk, resulting in the development of rashes and diarrhoea. It has high salt content and may lead to hypernatremia. Its calcium to phosphorus ratio is also inappropriate leading to hypocalcaemia. It exposes the child to risk of infections because of contamination during preparation and due to absence of maternal antibodies. Virtually all mothers can exclusively breastfeed their babies provided they’ve adequate information from their communities, families and health professionals.