Following on the tradition created by the original author of this blog, I, Kimberley, am sharing with you my New Year’s wish for breastfeeding families in Eeyou Itschee. My wish is that more babies will be breastfed at birth and that exclusive breastfeeding will increase in the community.
What does exclusive breastfeeding mean and why is it important? Exclusive breastfeeding means only mother’s milk and no other liquids or solid foods, not even water. Vitamins, minerals, and medication may be given. The recommendation from the World Health Organization is for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.
This is important right from birth, since in the first few days after birth, giving water or glucose water increases the risk of jaundice for the baby. Also, if you give your baby water or other liquids in those first days, they may not be interested in breastfeeding when you try to feed them because the tiny stomach is filled with something else. This means they may not get as much of the colostrum, which is so helpful for disease prevention. Nursing less often in those early days can also negatively influence your milk supply.
Another important reason to continue to exclusively breastfeed is that your baby’s immature digestive system is not ready to transform solid foods or other milks or liquids. Every time you breastfeed your baby you are giving them healthy bacteria which helps their gut to mature. Even one bottle of commercial infant formula will change the type of bacteria in your baby’s intestines and it will take a couple of weeks of exclusive breastfeeding to get back to the right balance of good bacteria in baby’s system. Studies are starting to show how important these good bacteria are, including that they play an important role in preventing auto-immune diseases such as diabetes. This is one way that breastmilk works toward disease prevention.
Breastmilk is easy to digest and contains all the nutrition your baby needs. It has the right balance of calories, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and so on. Your baby will receive more iron from your milk than from solid foods. Breastfed babies don’t need additional water. Giving anything other than mother’s milk can lead to missed feedings which can cause a reduction in milk supply and make it harder for the mother to continue breastfeeding. Missed feedings also means fewer antibodies to protect your baby as well as all the other immune factors that are involved in helping your baby reach optimal health.
For the mother, continuing exclusive breastfeeding often contributes to more weight loss, a longer time before her periods return and makes it easier to maintain a milk supply so that she can breastfeed her baby for two years or more, as recommended by the World Health Organization.
Breastfeeding is a normal and healthy practice. It is part of Miyupimaatisiiun. May there be many exclusively breastfed babies in 2017!