Increasing the number of babies being optimally breastfed could prevent hundreds of thousands of child and maternal deaths around the world each year, according to recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Dr Amal Abu Bakr, Lead Lactation Consultant and Chairperson of the Breastfeeding Committee at the Women’s Wellness and Research Centre (WWRC), part of Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), supports the WHO’s recommendation and stresses that breast milk provides protective immunity against infections and chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and childhood leukaemia, all of which are potential causes of child mortality. She says:
Breast milk contains all the nutrients that are needed for a child’s optimal growth and development. The cholesterol and fatty acids in breast milk are scientifically proven to promote strong immunity and higher intelligence in children. The WHO states that more than 823,000 child and 20,000 maternal deaths could be avoided each year if we strictly implement optimal breastfeeding, especially among babies up to six months of age. The WHO also recommends that babies should continue to be breastfed for up to two years of age with the addition of timely, healthy, supplementary foods.’
The term optimal breastfeeding refers to the practice of exclusive breastfeeding (breastmilk with no other foods or liquids) for the first six months of life, followed by breast milk and complementary foods from about six months of age on and continued breastfeeding for up to two years of age.
Dr Abu Bakr notes that scientific evidence has proven that breastfeeding is also beneficial to a mothers’ physical and emotional health. She says breastfeeding strengthens the bond between mother and child, aids in postpartum recovery, reduces the risk of postpartum bleeding, anaemia, 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.
Every year during World Breastfeeding Week, HMC joins the global community to highlight the significant health benefits of breastfeeding. This year, the week is being held under the theme ‘Empower Parents. Enable Breastfeeding’. Dr Abu Bakr continues:
At HMC, we offer our mothers access to skilled practical help from our staff who have been trained to provide breastfeeding support and to help build mothers’ confidence, improve their babies’ feeding technique, and prevent or resolve breastfeeding problems.’
Sharing their breastfeeding experience and how WWRC’s staff have supported them to breastfeed, two mothers, Sameha, a young Qatari mother and Batoul Shaar, an Arab expatriate, described the breastfeeding support they have received as compassionate and beneficial. Shaar said:
I would like to thank Dr Amal for all the help, support, and encouragement she and her team have given me. She taught me how to breastfeed and informed me about the importance of breastfeeding for my child’s health. I now have a better knowledge of how to properly latch my child to the breast and I am certain that my child will be well breastfed.’
Sameha also thanked Dr Abu Bakr for her support and for helping her successfully breastfeed her daughter. She added:
I am very happy with the advice and tips. Dr Amal and the team at WWRC provided me support and education in a kind and respectful environment.’
The WWRC runs a daily breastfeeding clinic from 9 am to 11.30 am in the Outpatient Department. In recognition of World Breastfeeding Week, the WWRC will hold awareness and advocacy events from 4 to 7 August, between 10 am and 1 pm, at WWRC and on 4 and 5 August, between 4 pm to 9 pm, at the Qatar National Library.