How long should I breastfeed my baby

Introduction

Breastfeeding is the natural means of infant nutrition. The constituents of breast milk are appropriate with the nutritional needs of the newborn. It is the infant’s only nutritional supply for the initial 6 months. Complementary foods can be initiated after 6 months. Women usually avoid breastfeeding as per the recommendation of the health experts which confers undesired effects on both the infant and maternal health

How does breastmilk differ from cow and formula milk?

In contrast to formula milk, human milk comprises of hormones, antibodies, and enzymes. Colostrum is the yellowish breastmilk that is produced in the first few days after infant’s birth

This colostrum is a good source of antibodies helps prevent overload on the kidney when the infant is just trying to adjust the balance of fluids.


Breast milk

Cow milk

Formula milk

Protein

Easily digestible proteins

Difficult digestible proteins

Partially digestible proteins

Fat

Essential fatty acids present

No essential fatty acids

Some essential fatty acids are added

Vitamins

Present in adequate amounts

Low levels of vitamin A, C, and iron

Added vitamins and minerals

Anti-infective factors

IgA, Lactoferrin, Lysozyme

None

None

Growth factors

Present

None

None


World health organization (WHO) recommendation

The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the initial 6 months, continuing at least through the infant’s first birthday till 2 years of age

Protective effects of breast milk

Infants

  • It is a finest nutritional source for the growth of the infant

  • The bioactive factors found in human milk facilitate favorable gut colonization in breastfed infants

  • IgA, the major antibody in human milk strengthens the infant’s immune system. This antibody is high in the colostrums (breast milk).

  • The beneficial gut microbes that result from breast milk safeguards the children from asthma and obesity

  • Provides essential nutrients namely vitamin B12, B6, K and folate

  • Oligosaccharides in milk prevent attachment of respiratory pathogens such as H. influenzae and S. pneumoniae

  • Glycoproteins prevent binding of intestinal pathogens such as Vibrio cholerae, E coli, and rotavirus

  • Lipids in human milk have antiviral activity against respiratory viruses

  • Reduced risk of diarrhoea

Mothers

  • Reduces maternal bleeding post delivery

  • Facilitates postpartum weight loss

  • Reduces stress

  • Decreases breast cancer risk

Apart from all these observed benefits breastfeeding has a natural suppressing effect on ovulation thereby promoting birth control upto 6 months



Are formula-fed infants at an increased risk for infections?

Compared with breastfed infants, formula-fed infants face higher risks of infections. This includes

  • Otitis media (ear infections)

  • Gastroenteritis

  • Pneumonia

  • Childhood obesity

  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Apart from this increased risk of infections formula fed children have lower IQ scores than breastfed children

What is Kangaroo mother care (KMC)?

Kangaroo mother care refers to the practice of providing continous skin contact between mother and newborn through breastfeeding. Apart from providing basic survival needs, it provides the benefit of a mother’s warmth, stimulation, and protection. It was found to reduce the infant mortality rate of low birth weight and preterm infants

Drugs that should be avoided in breastfeeding women

While breastfeeding prefer drugs that are minimally excreted in human milk as they can confer harmful effects on the breastfed infants

Drugs that should be used with caution include

  • Antiepileptics

  • Antipsychotics

  • Diuretics

  • Lithium

  • Oral contraceptives

Your practitioner might better help decide the safe medications that can be taken during lactation

HIV and breastfeeding

Breastfeeding should be avoided to prevent perinatal HIV infections. According to the WHO, it is recommended for 6 months, when no safe nutritional substitutes for breast milk are available.

References

1. Stuebe A. The risks of not breastfeeding for mothers and infants. Reviews in obstetrics and gynecology. 2009;2(4):222.

2. Shamir R. The benefits of breast feeding. InProtein in Neonatal and Infant Nutrition: Recent Updates 2016 (Vol. 86, pp. 67-76). Karger Publishers.


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