World Breastfeeding Week: 10 facts on breastfeeding

By Published On: August 4th, 2011

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, we’ll be sharing tips […]

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, we’ll be sharing tips and gear to help you through your nursing journey. Today, we’re sharing 10 facts about breastfeeding from the World Health Organization.
breastfeeding1. WHO recommendations
WHO strongly recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. At six months, other foods should complement breastfeeding for up to two years or more. They also recommend that breastfeeding begin within an hour of birth, as often as the child wants day and night (“on demand”), and that bottles or pacifiers should be avoided.
2. Health benefits for infants
Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants. It gives infants all the nutrients they need for healthy development. It is safe and contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses—such as diarrhea and pneumonia, the two primary causes of child mortality worldwide. Breast milk is readily available and affordable, which helps to ensure that infants get adequate sustenance.
3. Health benefits for mothers
Breastfeeding also benefits mothers. The practice when done exclusively often induces a lack of menstruation, which is a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control. It reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer later in life, helps women return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster, and lowers rates of obesity.
4. Long term benefits for children
Beyond the immediate benefits for children, breastfeeding contributes to a lifetime of good health. Adults who were breastfed as babies often have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, as well as lower rates of overweight, obesity and type-2 diabetes. There is evidence that people who were breastfed perform better in intelligence tests.
5. Formula
Infant formula does not contain the antibodies found in breast milk and is linked to some risks, such as water-borne diseases that arise from mixing powdered formula with unsafe water (many families lack access to clean water). Malnutrition can result from over-diluting formula to “stretch” supplies. Further, frequent feedings maintain the breast milk supply. If formula is used but becomes unavailable, a return to breastfeeding may not be an option due to diminished breast milk production.
6. AIDSand breastfeeding
For HIV-positive mothers, WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months unless replacement feeding is acceptable (socially welcome), feasible (facilities and help are available to prepare formula), affordable (formula can be purchased for six months), sustainable (feeding can be sustained for six months) and safe (formula is prepared with safe water and in hygienic conditions).
7. Regulation of breast milk substitutes
An international code to regulate the marketing of breast milk substitutes was adopted in 1981. It calls for:
* all formula labels and information to state the benefits of breastfeeding and the health risks of substitutes;
* no promotion of breast-milk substitutes;
* no free samples of substitutes to be given to pregnant women, mothers or their families; and
* no distribution of free or subsidized substitutes to health workers or facilities.
8. Support for nursing mothers
Breastfeeding has to be learned and many women encounter difficulties at the beginning. Nipple pain, and fear that there is not enough milk to sustain the baby are common. Health facilities that support breastfeeding—by making trained breastfeeding counsellors available to new mothers—encourage higher rates of the practice. To provide this support and improve care for mothers and newborns, there are now more than 20,000 “baby-friendly” facilities in 152 countries thanks to a WHO-UNICEF initiative.
9. Work and breastfeeding
WHO recommends that a new mother should have at least 16 weeks of absence from work after delivery, to be able to rest and breastfeed her child. Many mothers who go back to work abandon exclusive breastfeeding before the recommended six months because they do not have sufficient time, or an adequate place to breastfeed or express and store their milk at work. Mothers need access to a safe, clean and private place in or near their workplaces to continue the practice.
10. Phasing in new foods
To meet the growing needs of babies at six months of age, complementary foods should be introduced as they continue to breastfeed. Foods for the baby can be specially prepared or modified from family meals. WHO notes that breastfeeding should not be decreased when starting complementary feeding; complementary foods should be given with a spoon or cup, not in a bottle; foods should be clean, safe and locally available; and ample time is needed for young children to learn to eat solid foods.
For more information on breastfeeding from the World Health Organization, including statistics and programs offered by the WHO, visit their Breastfeeding Health Topic page.