Despite the constant demand for powdered milk and the prevalence of child geniuses supposedly bred on the stuff, a simple fact still remains: breast milk is best for your baby. In its document “Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding” (2003), the World Health Organization (WHO) states that “Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants . . . The vast majority of mothers can and should breastfeed, just as the vast majority of infants can and should be breastfed.”
Taking this message to heart is TV personality, mother of three, and recent appointee as the UNICEF’s Special Advocate for Children Daphne Oseña-Paez, who for several years has been a staunch supporter of the campaign to make breast milk the number one feeding option in the country. “Breast milk provides a complete, nutritious [meal] that is all a baby needs—[infants should be given] no other foods for the first six months of life,” explains Daphne, who is a firm believer in the nourishing qualities of a mother’s milk.
Breastfeeding is superior to any other baby-feeding practices for several reasons. First, breast milk contains antibodies that protect newborns from sickness, infection, and allergies. Medical journal The Lancet shares, “Infants 0-5 months who are not breastfed have seven-fold and five-fold increased risks of death from diarrhoea and pneumonia, respectively, compared with infants who are exclusively breastfed.” In addition to this, infants who are breastfed non-exclusively (meaning the milk is diluted with water or supplemented by other foods) increase their risk of dying from diarrhea or pneumonia by two-fold, as compared to infants who are breastfed exclusively, according to the journal.
Second, the nutrient-rich composition of breast milk is specifically tailored for growing babies and cannot be replicated commercially. Daphne shares that the makeup of breast milk is so unique, it actually changes according to the different stages of an infant’s growth. “At any [given] time, an infant is getting exactly the right type of food for their stage of development.”
Third, breast-feeding is beneficial to the mother's health. According to this article on WomensHealth.gov, breastfeeding has been linked to lower risks in Type 2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer, and postpartum depression (PPD). Daphne adds, “Breastfeeding [also] helps mothers lose the weight they gained, as the fat stored during pregnancy is transmitted through the mother's milk.” To many new mothers who were body-conscious before giving birth, this should be a definite plus!
Lastly, the intimacy of breastfeeding solidifies the bond between mother and child, giving the baby an identifiable support system of comfort and safety and reinforcing his or her self-confidence in older stages of development. This bond is strengthened by the fact that infants need to be breastfed several times a day on demand. To ensure closeness and comfort during feedings, Daphne recommends that mother and child be tummy to tummy, with the baby’s head well-cradled; the process should be savored, never rushed, for as long as the baby wants to suckle. She also suggests that mothers try the “breast crawl”—as soon as your babies are born, place them on your abdomen and allow them to find their way to the breast. This makes for an incredible bonding experience that only mother and child can share.
Unfortunately, despite these manifold benefits, breastfeeding is still not fully utilized in our country. Recent data from the National Department of Health shows that only 34 percent of mothers in the Philippines practice exclusive breastfeeding for babies 0-5 months old. This is a definite concern, given the variety of diseases that can befall a newborn child whose system isn’t fortified by breast milk (and only breast milk) for the first 6 months of life.
If you plan to breastfeed your child—and we hope you do—make the necessary preparations. Daphne suggests discussing your feeding plan with your OB-GYN even before you give birth so that your newborn isn’t given glucose water or formula in the hospital nursery. You can also meet with the hospital’s lactation consultant to learn all you can about the benefits of and best practices for breastfeeding. Then, when you finally start to nurse, stick with it. Daphne, who breastfed all her children from the start, says that the process couldn’t get any more natural—as long as you have the commitment. “Once you learn it, breastfeeding becomes very easy—no bottles, no expense, no time wasted. You don't even have to get up in the middle of the night to make milk.”
“I wish more celebrities or well-known Filipino women would advocate breastfeeding as it is literally a matter of life and death for most of our infants in this country,” says Daphne, who notes actress Helena Bonham Carter and supermodel Elle McPherson as some of the famous faces behind the global breastfeeding campaign. “I also remember seeing a video of Salma Hayek visiting a developing country—she saw a hungry infant and fed him directly from her breast. It was quite powerful.”
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(Photo source: sxc.hu, edited)