The importance of breastfeeding the baby has been known and established for decades. Breast milk is the safest and the healthiest food for the baby because it is easily digestible and contains all the nutrition required by the baby, at least for the first six months. Though the decision to breastfeed the baby is entirely a personal choice but the importance and need of breastfeeding for the baby, as well as for the mother must be understood clearly.

It is recommended that a mother should breastfeed the baby at least for 6 months, during this time the baby need not be fed any other item. Post 6 months of light food such as vegetables, grains, fruits, proteins can be given along with breastfeeding if the mother feels up for it. The advantages of breastfeeding the baby for both the baby and the mother must be considered before deciding on whether or not to breastfeed.

Even WHO claims that breastfeeding reduces child mortality and possesses health benefits that carry onto adulthood. WHO and UNICEF suggest that:

  • Breastfeeding must be initiated within the first hour of the baby’s birth
  • The infant should be on breastfeeding exclusively at least for 6 months and no additional food or drink should be given to the newborn
  • Breastfeeding should be done when wanted or pointed by the child
  • The process should be natural without the use of any bottles, teats or pacifiers

Breastfeed is often a natural act or sometimes can be a learned behaviour since it may take time for the mother and child to bond. However, it is also known that the mother requires adequate support and encouragement to initiate breastfeeding and carry appropriate breastfeeding practices. It is also because there is a lack of awareness of the multitude of benefits breastfeeding has for the newborn and also for the mother. 

Importance of breast feeding for the new born

  • Supplies all essential nutrients – vitamins, proteins, and fat – in the right quantities
  • Is easily digested and creates no stomach problems
  • Protects against allergies, asthma, and sickness
  • Fights obesity and promotes healthy weight
  • Keeps away from diseases such as diabetes and cancer
  • Protects from infections
  • Contains antibodies that help fight bacteria and virus
  • Protect the proper development of the brain
  • Prevents respiratory issues
  • Protects from pneumonia
  • Prevents cold and cough
  • Protects from diarrhoea, constipation, and vomiting
  • Help fight urinary tract infections
  • Prevents meningitis
  • Protects from heat and liver disease in adulthood
  • Helps fight celiac disease
  • Promotes healthy jaw and tooth formation
  • Improves immunity
  • Reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Provides security
  • Enhances mental development 

Importance of breastfeeding for the mother

  • Enhances bonding between the mother and infant
  • Heal from post-pregnancy trauma
  • Can help delay a new pregnancy
  • Avoid extreme postpartum bleeding
  • Lose weight effectively – burn 500 calories per day
  • Strengthens bones
  • Relax
  • Saves time
  • Reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Minimizes chances of osteoporosis
  • Prevents breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer

Breastfeeding is a secure way of feeding, also improves family resources and additionally is beneficial for the environment. It is readily available per baby’s need and always at the right temperature, clean and free. That said, breastfeeding is the natural and most recommended way to feed a newborn at least for 6 months post-birth. Over this course of time, breast milk changes constantly to meet the baby’s needs. The milk modified in volume, composition, colour, and texture as per the time of the day, frequency of feed, and the age of the baby. The natural change is to promote the healthy growth of the newborn.  

How often do babies breastfeed?

The frequency of breastfeeding depends on each baby differently. However, on average a baby feeds for about 8-12 times in 24 hours, though some babies might feed up to 18 times. Babies initially feed for a shorter duration, but post 8-12 weeks of birth, the babies start feeding for longer intervals. That said, the pattern can fluctuate as the baby grows; sometimes the frequency increases before eventually dropping or vice versa. Moreover, the interval of feeds is also dependent on the content of the mother’s milk. Milk with higher fat content will lead to shorter feeds, while low-fat milk content has longer feeding durations. The content of milk also varies as feeding progresses; initially, it is thin and gets denser as the feed progresses. Also, fat and energy are higher in breast milk during the day as compared to the night, which helps in easy digestion.  

That said, the simple formula for breastfeeding to remember is ABC:

  • Awareness – Be aware and watch out for baby’s signs of hunger such as movements, open mouth, etc.
  • Be Patient – Breastfeed for as long as the baby is hungry. Do not pull away before or be agitated on repeated feeds.
  • Comfort – be comfortable and relax while breastfeeding to allow the milk to flow smoothly. 

However, in certain conditions such as below, the mother should refrain from breastfeeding if she has or is:

  • HIV positive
  • Active tuberculosis
  • Undergoing cancer treatment
  • Infections
  • Using illegal drugs including cocaine
  • Taking medications for arthritis, migraine, etc.

Hence, it is best to consult your doctor about your health conditions before breastfeeding.

Though a personal choice- breastfeeding is highly recommended to ensure the health and long-term safety of both the newborn and the mother.