18 August 2012

Uganda: Breastfeeding - the Precious Jewel for Both Mother and Baby

Children who are exclusively breastfed not only grow strong and healthy, but also their mothers are happier. Agnes Kyotalengerire explores the benefits of breastfeeding

Tina Baine, a mother of three, recalls the pressure her mother-in-law put her under to breastfeed her babies in the first year of their lives.

"My children never suffered diarrhoea and colds when I was breastfeeding them," Baine recalls.

Jemimah Nakitto, a mother of two-year-old Jotham, is thankful to the mid-wife who discouraged her from giving him formula even when breastfeeding was difficult for her. Nakitto's nipples were sore and she would produce little milk no matter how hard Jotham suckled. Now that Jotham is a strong and healthy toddler, Nakitto does not regret insisting on breastfeeding.

Nutritionists and medical experts say if done adequately, breastfeeding benefits both the baby and the mother. Benefits for the baby

Breastfeeding in the first hour of life provides immunity against diseases. Apophia Kyampaire, the manager food and nutrition security at Baylor-Uganda explains that colostrum, the first yellow milk, which is produced when a mother has just given birth, is rich in vitamin A and contains more protein than subsequent milk.

"Colostrum prevents bacterial infections in new-borns because it contains antibodies, white blood cells and other anti-infective proteins, not found in mature milk," she explains. Kyampaire adds that colostrum also helps clear the baby's gut of the first dark stool (meconium). This helps to prevent jaundice. In the same breath, she warns against giving babies anything other than breastmilk immediately they are born. "Artificial feeds given before a baby has taken colostrum may cause allergies."

Breastmilk contains all the nutrients a baby needs and it is easily digested," Kyampaire explains.

Breastfeeding promotes development of the baby's brain and nervous system, while continuous suckling aids proper development of the jaw and facial features, says Jane Okello, a breastfeeding expert.

A baby who is breastfed gains weight normally, Okello adds, which curbs obesity related health issues.

Benefits for the mother

The benefits of breastfeeding are not only for the baby, but mothers too stand to gain if they breastfeed for a reasonably long period.

Mothers who breastfeed, especially soon after birth, are less likely to experience fatal post-partum haemorrhage (bleeding after birth), according to Dr. Dan Murokora, the director for Uganda Women Health Initiative. He explains that breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin hormone, making the uterus contract faster and hence reduce bleeding.

Breastfeeding helps with child spacing. "Mothers who breastfeed exclusively and have not had their periods have few chances of becoming pregnant in the first six months after giving birth," explains Dr. Evelyn Nabunya, a gynaecologist at Mulago Hospital. She says breastfeeding increases the release of prolactin, a hormone, that prevents ovulation and conception.

She adds that breastfeeding offers protection against breast and ovarian cancers. "Women who breastfeed reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 25%," she explains. The reduction in risk is proportionate to the cumulative duration of breastfeeding, the more years a mother breastfeeds, the lower her risk of getting breast cancer.

Dr. Murokora explains that breastfeeding helps to prevent uterine and ovarian cancer by lowering oestrogen levels during lactation, and that the less oestrogen available to stimulate the lining of the uterus and perhaps the breast tissue, the less the risk of these tissues becoming cancerous.

He adds that breastfeeding reduces the risks of osteoporosis. "Non-breastfeeding women have a four times higher chance of developing osteoporosis than breastfeeding women and are more likely to suffer from hip fractures in the post-menopausal years," he says. Osteoporosis is the condition whereby bones become thin, brittle and fragile as a result of hormonal changes during menopause

Women who breastfeed face a lower risk of suffering from postpartum anxiety and depression compared to formula-feeding mothers, according to Josephine Nalugo, a breastfeeding consultant. This can be attributed to the release of oxytocin or the happiness hormone during breastfeeding, which significantly reduces the risk of depression.

Breastfeeding could reduce the risk of depression is that it promotes bonding between mother and child.

"It helps to form a close relationship between the mother and the baby. A mother who is happy bonds better with her baby," says Nalugo.

The benefits of breastfeeding also stretch to one's pocket. According to Alex Mokori, a nutritionist. "Breastfeeding provides nourishment for a child at the same time relieving parents the cost of health issues associated with artificial infant feeding, for example, ear infections and diarrhoea," says Mokori

Mokori adds that breastfeeding is convenient because the milk is always available and does not need any preparation, saving the mother the bother of carrying bottles and formula whenever she is on the move.

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