Women’s Hospital (WH) highlights the significant health benefits of breastfeeding on the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week, which is celebrated worldwide every year from 1-7 August. This year’s global theme calls for multi-dimensional support from all sectors to enable working mothers everywhere to breastfeed their babies.

Dr. Amal Abu Bakr,  Lactation Consultant and Chairperson of the Breastfeeding Committee at WH, said:

Breastfeeding strengthens the bond between mother and child and provides significant health benefits for both.’

Bakr leads the WH’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), which focuses on adopting best practices in breastfeeding with the aim of promoting wellness of both mothers and their babies. This includes the creation of a supportive hospital environment for pregnant women, mothers after birth, and their families, with well-motivated, knowledgeable and highly skilled hospital staff.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed (without water, herbs, other milk or food) starting within one hour after birth until they are six months old. Dr. Abu Bakr said breastfeeding is an ideal and complete form of nutrition for infants up to six months of age, and also affirms the WHO recommendation that breastfeeding should continue for up to two years of age with the addition of timely, healthy supplementary food.

Breastfeeding helps to protect children against common childhood infections as well as allergies and chronic illnesses later in life. Breast milk is full of living cells, hormones and antibodies that provide protective immunity against infections and chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and childhood leukemia. It contains all the nutrients that are needed for the child’s optimal growth and development. The cholesterol and fatty acids in breast milk are scientifically proven to promote higher intelligence in children.’

Dr. Abu Bakr explained that formula milk lacks the nutrients, hormones and antibodies present in mother’s milk. It is also more difficult to digest as it changes good microbes in the baby’s digestive system to bad ones, and is more likely to cause negative reactions such as constipation, colic (a frustrating condition marked by predictable periods of significant distress in an otherwise well-fed, healthy baby) and gas pain.

Scientific evidence shows that breastfeeding also promotes the mother’s physical and emotional health. Among the benefits are supporting love and intimacy between the mother and child; quick postpartum recovery; reduced risk for postpartum bleeding, anemia, breast and ovarian cancer, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis during menopause. There is also less postpartum anxiety and depression among breastfeeding mothers compared with those who do not breastfeed.’

Dr. Abu Bakr said that when the mother decides to stop breastfeeding, the baby should be weaned gradually, in order to ensure a smooth transition for both mother and child.

The mother can slowly taper off how long and how often she breastfeeds her child over the course of weeks or months, and the child’s diet should be complemented with other nutritious foods. It is important for mothers to maintain adequate body contact with their child during the weaning period.’