Health benefits of Breast Feeding


Health benefits of Breast Feeding
It reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome,
central obesity, hypertension, diabetes
mellitus, cardio-vascular disorders, fatty liver,
asthma and allergic disorder in children
Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmad Akhtar

Breast feeding week is celebrated from 1st to 7th August every year. Breast feeding needs to be promoted in Pakistan as it offers enormous benefits both to infant and mother. It is one of the most important public health interventions. It is entirely natural, 100 percent nutritionally balanced with correct temperature and completely cost effective. On the other hand, bottle feeding is very hazardous. It is unfortunate that exclusive breast feeding rate in Pakistan, the lowest in the region 38% and bottle feeding which is very harmful even lethal the feeding to percentage which is very worrisome.

Breast feeding is very important during crucial first hour of life. Skin to skin contact along with sucking at the breast stimulates the production of breast milk including colostrum, also called the baby’s first vaccination – extremely rich in nutrients and anti-bodies to provide critical immunity against a host of diseases. Breast suckling causes production of Oxytocin hormone also called love hormone that promotes bonding of infant and the mother scientifically proved that inadequate breast feeding either not initiating feeding in the 1st hour of birth or not exclusively breast feeding which means feeding only of mother’s milk and even not water from the first six months of life – will affect the health, wellbeing and in many cases even the life of the baby estimated that twenty two percent of neonatal deaths can be prevented if breast feeding is done within first hour of birth. It is pertinent to point out that neonatal death rate in Pakistan is highest in the world.

Lt. Gen. (R) Mahmud Ahmad Akhtar

Babies digest breast milk easily than formula milk and do not suffer from deadly diarrheal disorders, which is the main killer in Pakistan. In future life, breast feeding reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome central obesity, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, cardio-vascular disorders, fatty liver etc., also asthma, and allergy disorder in children. As regards benefits for mothers it promotes bonding between mother and baby which is very important also for the mental health of the baby and the mother. Lactation prolongs post-partum amenorrhea and provides protection against pregnancy (natural contraception). It also helps in uterus to involute to original size, shape, texture, position and lesser consistency of the chances of bleeding due to the production of hormone prolactin after birth. Breast feeding mothers have protection from breast carcinoma, ovarian carcinoma, glucose intolerance and osteoporosis after menopause.

WHO recommends exclusive breast feeding for six months and continued breast feeding for 02 years at least with the addition of complementary foods. Breast feeding is good for mothers. Many studies show that doctors and mid wives rarely inform moms-to-be that it is good for nursing mothers – protects them from many serious diseases. Studies have shown that nursing mothers reduce their relative risk of breast cancer by 4.3 percent for every 12 months. They breast feed in addition to a relative decrease of 7 percent for each birth. Breast feeding is particularly protective against some of the most aggressive tumors called hormone receptor – negative or triple negative tumours. It also lowers one third for women who are prone because of an inherited mutation in a gene associated with breast cancer. Women who breast feed are also less likely to develop ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis and suffer less from cardiovascular disorders.

A recent study published in breast feeding medicine, the papers published by Bhuraneswari Ramaswamy, an associate professor of medical oncology at Ohio State University stated that just over half time before they gave birth that breast feeding reduced the risk of breast cancer and provided other benefits.

In Pakistan, due to high female illiteracy, poverty, lack of health facilities much less number of women receive information. There is a need to disseminate information for prevention of diseases particularly breast carcinoma which carries one of the highest incidence in Pakistan –largest in the region. About the rate of lactation in prevention of breast carcinoma it is hypothesized that breast undergoes changes during pregnancy as they develop more milk ducts in preparation for breast feeding.

The breast eventually through process of involution that returns them to pre-pregnancy state and involves a large number of cell death and tissue remodeling. That transition can occur slowly through gradual weaning or abruptly if there is no breast feeding or only brief breast feeding. When it occurs abruptly it creates an inflammatory condition that is conductive to cancer. Dr. Ramaswamy stated Dr. Marisa Weiss, the founder of the website Breast Cancer Org who has done research in the area says that breast feeding forces the breasts to grow and make milk. That maturation process causes changes in the milk ducts that make the breast more resistant to cancer.

Regarding metabolic changes, breast feeding resets the body metabolism after pregnancy, improving glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, burning calories and mobilizing stores of fat that have accumulated during pregnancy, which explains that women who breast fed have lower rates of diabetes mellitus and other problems like cardiovascular disorders etc.

Complementary foods must be hygienic to avoid G.I. disorders which are very common in Pakistan and the cause of the one of the highest infant mortality not only in the region but also amongst other parts of the world. As an example Sri Lanka has 8 infant mortality per thousand live births, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, India less than 40 per thousand live birth. In Pakistan it is much higher in Baluchistan, Sindh, interior FATA and Southern Punjab. Early childhood marriages is also one of the factors in causation of high morbidities and mortalities. It is due to non-availability of potable water – fundamental human right enshrined in constitution.

It has been estimated that in Pakistan there is 85 percent exclusive breast feeding at one month with the figure plummeted to 55 percent at two month then to 37 percent at six months. A terrible situation indeed, which needs rectification on emergency basis. Despite fatal hazards of formula milk, WHOs Health Assembly recommendation and also being illegal to market the formula products to infants and children up to three years of age, the companies are aggressively promoting and selling the formula milk, the Govt. and many doctors are also conniving with the industry watching passively.

The government in Pakistan should adopt active measures to implement the law and prohibit the illegal sale of formulae milk. They should create awareness through every means, media both radio, TV, print and digital. Political parties academic institutions both health and other holding seminars etc. Prayer leader should be actively involved in the campaign as there a religious injunction for breast feeding.

Bangladesh and Indonesia have met huge successes in population control, breast feeding etc. by involving prayer leaders and also women in the campaign who visit homes to crease awareness and educate mothers to be. Although UNICEF and WHO is actively involved in the campaign more needs to be done in promoting awareness, education, legislation and enforcement of law. Continued education of doctors, lady health workers, nurses’ community mid wives and other professionals on the clear benefit of breast feeding and help in the legal environment designed to support breast feeding. In this regard Family physicians, mid wives pediatricians and gynecologists should play leading roles. Lactation support should be provided to mothers who feel difficulty in breast feeding their babies. The support should be provided at health facilities when women deliver and also provided domiciliary support. In Pakistan literacy rate is one of the lowest in the world – particularly of girls. There should be special emphasis on female education. It is extremely low in Baluchistan, FATA Sindh interior and Southern Punjab. These areas deserve special attention. The others need support of families, the health care system and the society at large.

Working women need proper day care facilities to breast feed. They need a safe, clean and private place in or near the work to continue breast feeding. There is a need to create supporting environment for mother. UNICEF and WHO are providing facilities which should be availed fully by the Health Authorities of Pakistan by following their recommendations in letter and spirit. Unfortunately implementation at all levels and sphere in Pakistan is low. Our rulers are long at rhetoric and short on deeds/actions, let us hope for a turn-around for the better and adopt Quaid’s vision of making Pakistan a democratic welfare state and not an elite which has been made by the elites of Pakistan.