Breastfeeding is a baby’s first vaccine.
This is the message The Breastfeeding Association of TT’s (TBATT) has for nursing mothers on its Facebook page said, as it bids to promote “exclusive breastfeeding of infants during the first six months of their lives.”
As the world celebrates breastfeeding week, which began on August 1 and ends August 7, TBATT said there is a need to promote breastfeeding to empower mothers and make people “aware of the importance of human milk in laying a sound foundation for a healthy life during infancy, childhood and throughout the lifespan.”
It is especially important to continue to promote breastfeeding during the covid19 pandemic, Rhona Sandiford, TBATT’s executive officer, said in e-mail responses to Newsday.
“Breast milk is nature’s perfect first food, tailor-made for babies, providing all the nutrients they need. Research shows that it is the safest, most nutrient rich food for babies, providing lifelong benefits. Breastfeeding provides every child with the best possible start in life and helps our communities and our country to be a healthier place,” she said.
This is why the theme for World Breastfeeding Week 2020 is support breastfeeding for a healthier planet.
Sandiford said while breastfeeding is a natural process, it was not always easy. She said there were some mothers who experienced challenges, who if they do not receive support and help when needed, may introduce breast milk substitutes and eventually stop breastfeeding.
“Mothers need a supportive, enabling environment when they give birth, when they initiate breastfeeding and throughout their breastfeeding journey.
“Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding involves everyone, fathers, family, friends, healthcare providers, work colleagues, employers, communities and society as a whole.” She added there is a need for baby-friendly hospitals, mother-friendly workplaces and mother-friendly and family-friendly communities.
Similarly, Debra Thomas, manager of the National Breastfeeding Coordinating unit, Ministry of Health said TT’s regional health authorities (RHAs) were preparing to become accredited as baby-friendly hospitals.
She said this meant that 95 per cent of pregnant women will at some point in time in their pregnancy seek care at public maternity and child healthcare services. She added the RHAs would offer services that provided the best option of nutrition to infants and that is breastfeeding.
While it does not mean that every woman is compelled to breastfeed, the unit will supply mothers with the information to make an informed choice as to how they want to breastfeed.
Once mothers are properly educated and supported it gives them the opportunity to breastfeed and continue breastfeeding, Thomas said, adding that the programme at hospitals has generally resulted in an increase in women breastfeeding.
However, she warned that many people were being influenced by marketing companies and the misinformation being given to them. There is, she said, “a lot of violation of the international code of marketing which says that infant formula should not be marketed on billboards, in public spaces, in supermarkets among others.”
Thomas also saw the lack of enabling work environments as a challenge to breastfeeding.
“Is there an enabling environment for her to express her milk, store her milk in safety? A lot of times, in most companies, no,” she said. Thomas applauded the Unit Trust Corporation for providing an enabling workspace for mothers employed there to express and store milk during work hours in privacy and comfort. This was something people needed to advocate for, she said. She said the lack of breastfeeding spaces was a major problem to the extent that some women said the only place they could express milk was in a toilet at work.
“We need to generate that interest in the public especially among employers to make that kind of accommodation for women,” she said.
Dr Jewel Headley, a paediatric doctor at San Fernando General Hospital’s neonatal unit, like TBATT, agreed that breastfeeding is important in the first six months of a child’s life for many reasons.
In WhatsApp responses to Newsday, Headley said breastmilk contained antibodies which provides the baby with protection against infections. “This results in fewer hospital visits and reduces the occurrence of gastrointestinal illnesses such as diarrhoea and vomiting as well as respiratory tract infections such as the common cold.”
Other health benefits of breastfeeding include bonding between the baby and mother which encouraged good neuro-development of the baby. Breastmilk is also uniquely designed and provides adequate nutrition for the baby’s individual needs, she said.
Like Thomas, Headley said more mothers have been breastfeeding because TT’s hospitals were breastfeeding friendly.
While breastfeeding may not always be easy to establish during the first few days of life, she encouraged new mothers to relax and be patient and to keep trying. Headley said mothers should seek advice from appropriate healthcare providers if they had further concerns or questions.
While the literature on breastfeeding during the covid19 pandemic is expanding, the three experts agreed that the best way to address the matter was for mothers to follow all established protocols and continue breastfeeding.
Thomas said if a mother is covid19 positive the unit is asking that all protocols be maintained.
“She will observe the normal protocol but you keep mother and baby together. You do not separate them,” she said, adding the baby will get immunity from the mother to fight against any illness.
Sandiford said mothers have continued to breastfeed during the pandemic and are even more motivated to do so because of the health benefits for their babies.
She added that mothers have been reassured by the overwhelming evidence in support of breastfeeding during the pandemic, adding that covid19 has not been found in breastmilk and there is no evidence that the virus can be passed on to the baby by breastfeeding,
“Skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby and early, exclusive breastfeeding has continued to be recommended,” she said.
Sandiford said mothers who are concerned about reduced finances during the pandemic, appreciated that breastfeeding is better, safer and free for their babies.
“Also some mothers who were thinking about weaning have made the decision to continue to breastfeed longer during this time,” she said.
About World Breastfeeding Week
World Breastfeeding Week has been observed for the past 28 years. It was first started in 1992 after the 1990 Innocenti Declaration. Unicef.org said the Innocenti Declaration was produced and adopted by participants at the WHO/UNICEF policymakers’ meeting on Breastfeeding in the 1990s: A Global Initiative, co-sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (AID) and the Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA), held at the Spedale degli Innocenti, Florence, Italy on July 30- August 1, 1990.
Since its start, the week has looked at themes such as healthcare systems, women and work and the international code of marketing of breast milk substitutes, the World Alliance For Breastfeeding Action (WABA) website says. The week is held annually from August 1-7.