As World Breastfeeding Week 2020 begins and is celebrated in more than 120 countries, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub explores the subject of breastfeeding, offering useful advice and information for local mothers and mums-to-be.
Taking place from 1-7 August every year, World Breastfeeding Week is organised jointly by World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), World Health Organisation (WHO) and The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) with a view to encouraging positive and healthy breastfeeding across the world.
Breastfeeding protects the health of children and mothers. Globally, only 41% of the 141 million babies born annually are exclusively breastfed until six months. The campaign to promote breastfeeding is particularly important in the UK, where breastfeeding levels are considered amongst the lowest in the world.
Scotland’s breastfeeding rates have been improving in recent years though, with 43% of babies being breastfed at 6-8 weeks in 2019. Almost two-thirds of Scottish babies born last year were breastfed for at least some time after their birth, with 18% of toddlers still being breastfed at 13-15 months.
Breastfeeding can be a highly emotive subject in this country (and the developed world as a whole) because so many families have not breastfed, with others having experienced the trauma of trying hard to breastfeed and not succeeding.
But when undertaken effectively, breastfeeding undoubtedly yields many health benefits to babies, providing critical nutrients, protection from certain diseases and fostering growth and development.
While the spotlight during World Breastfeeding Week is primarily on the health benefits of breastfeeding to both child and mother, this year’s campaign introduces a different perspective through the theme of ‘Support Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet’.
This new focus follows on from research unveiled last year which highlighted that breastfeeding could help save the environment. In this respect, indications are that manufactured infant formula not only produces significant amounts of greenhouse gases but also generates a high volume of waste.
Remarkably, it is believed that the UK’s low breastfeeding rates cause the equivalent of 77,500 cars worth of damage every year. Moreover, since powdered infant formula has to be heated to at least 70C during production, energy usage equates to that of charging 200 smartphones per annum.
Scientists at Imperial College London recently calculated that exclusive breastfeeding for six months would save between 95 and 153kg of carbon dioxide per baby. The BMJ, a leading medical research journal, stated:
“The production of unnecessary infant and toddler formulas exacerbates environmental damage and should be a matter of increasing global concern.
“We need to acknowledge that our house is on fire and that the next generation requires us to act quickly to reduce carbon footprints in every sphere of life.
“Breastfeeding is a part of this jigsaw, and as such urgent investment is needed to encourage more breastfeeding and less usage of infant formula.”
Increasing the number of babies who are breastfed could markedly reduce the incidence of common childhood illnesses such as ear, chest and gut infections, potentially saving the NHS up to £50 million each year.
Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub has researched the below information to assist local parents and families with their choices in relation to breastfeeding.
IS BREAST REALLY BEST? UNDERSTANDING BREASTFEEDING AND MAKING INFORMED DECISIONS
What is Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding, sometimes known as nursing, is the feeding of babies and young children with milk from a woman’s breast. Changes to the mother’s body in early pregnancy prepare her breasts for lactation, the process where milk is produced and secreted through the nipples.
Women have breastfed their children for thousands of years, but it’s only in modern times that the full health benefits of breastfeeding for both children and mothers have become better understood.
Who Can Breastfeed?
Most mothers should be able to breastfeed their own children safely and with no risk whatsoever. It may be advisable for some mothers not to breastfeed if they have particular health conditions or accentuating circumstances. If parents have any doubts or concerns, it’s wise to speak to a GP or assigned healthcare practitioner for advice before the baby is born.
Equally so, any family considering breastfeeding a child that is not biologically their own should seek relevant medical advice before proceeding, as this can be risky in some instances.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Breastfeeding?
There are multiple advantages of breastfeeding, notably that a mother’s breast milk is perfectly designed for her baby. Crucially, a mother’s breast milk protects her baby from many infections and diseases, whilst formulated milk does not do this as effectively.
Interestingly, the benefits of breastfeeding are not only for the child. For the mother, breastfeeding burns calories and can help with weight loss after pregnancy. Breastfeeding also releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps the mother’s uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and reduces post-pregnancy bleeding. Furthermore, breastfeeding reduces the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
With breastfeeding, breast milk is available for the baby whenever they need it. This is highly beneficial as newborn babies feed frequently. The process of breastfeeding can also help build a strong emotional bond between mother and baby.
In most instances, the health advantages of breastfeeding far outweigh any potential disadvantages. It is possible that the mother may feel some discomfort whilst breastfeeding, particularly during the first few feedings.
It can also be common for mothers to feel concerned, anxious or embarrassed about breastfeeding. For most mothers, this can be overcome by receiving the proper advice and support, and through practice.
Breastfeeding is a skill that takes time to get the hang of. Lots of mothers wonder if their baby is feeding well and getting enough milk, especially in the first few days. But once mastered, mothers often find it is the easiest and most satisfying way to feed their baby.
How Long Should a Mother Breastfeed For?
Current guidance recommends that babies should receive breast milk for the first six months of life then, after introduction of solid foods, should continue to breastfeed up to their second birthday or for as long as the mother and baby wish. The decision about how long to breastfeed for is very personal and can depend on a number of factors.
To ensure healthy milk production, it’s important that the mother only gives their baby breast milk in the early days. In the first 24 hours after the birth, babies usually wake and feed often. This can feel like a lot of feeding, but it’s normal and usually settles quickly.
How Should a Mother Breastfeed?
It’s sensible for any mother to research and seek advice about the process and cycle of breastfeeding before their baby is born.
National charity The Breastfeeding Network provides a comprehensive online portal in relation to this, which includes sections on getting started, if breastfeeding hurts, finding support, breastfeeding in public, expressing and storing, milk banking and introducing a bottle. The website also provides useful video links for women thinking about breastfeeding.
Can Coronavirus be Transmitted Through Breastfeeding?
Mothers might feel worried about how coronavirus (COVID-19) could affect their baby if they are breastfeeding or planning on breastfeeding. While an infected mother could pass COVID-19 to her baby in the same way as any infected person could transmit the virus to another individual, there is currently no evidence to suggest that the virus can be transmitted through breast milk or breastfeeding.
World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has endorsed several publications and resources in relation to coronavirus and breastfeeding. These can be accessed by clicking here.
Independent, confidential and mother-centred advice can also be sought by contacting the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212. The helpline, which is operational from 9.30am-9.30pm every day of the year, is manned by trained volunteer mums who have breastfed.
More information about World Breastfeeding Week 2020 is available on World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA)’s website at www.waba.org.my.