Exclusive breastfeeding vital for first six months

With changing weather condition children are more prone than adults to get sick. This is because of their low immunity and as they grow their body’s self defense mechanisms (immunity) develops too. Exclusive breastfeeding is a blessing for a child in her or his first six months of life which is not only a complete balanced diet for the child, but also prevents infections transmitted through unhygienic feeding habits and boosts up a child’s immunity significantly. If a child is not breastfed during first six months of life then the risk of contracting infections such as pneumonia goes up alarmingly. More than 1.6 million children under the age of 5 years die due to pneumonia despite pneumonia being preventable and curable too.

The child should be breastfed within the first hour after birth and exclusive breastfeeding is strongly recommended for the first six months, said Dr Ajay Kumar, senior Paediatrician, Hope Mother and Child Care Centre, Lucknow. Breastfeeding as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) is instrumental in not only gifting the child with stronger immunity but also reduces the risk of serious infections such as pneumonia. However there are mothers who aren’t able to breastfeed despite awareness. They complain of insufficient milk production at times which is a misconception because it is normal to have less milk in the initial phases of breastfeeding as the breasts produce a sticky ‘colestrum’. If mothers continue to breastfeed then milk production goes up rapidly and is in the best interests of the child, said Dr Kumar.

Colestrum also increases immunity in a child, said Dr Nidhi Johri, senior Gynaecologist and Obstetrician, Hope Mother and Child Care Centre, Lucknow. Mother’s milk is the safest, cleanest and complete diet for a newly born child up to six months, said Dr Johri. Mothers often refrain from exclusive breastfeeding because either they feel that milk production is insufficient, or it causes pain in their waists, or they have a very hectic work schedule and it is difficult to provide the child exclusive breastfeeding. It is very difficult and at times impractical to ensure that the milk other than mother’s own milk is sanitized and clean for the child, said Dr Johri. This is why some children who aren’t breastfed develop pneumonia.

Dr Ritu Garg, senior Gynaecologist and Obstetrician, Yash Hospital, Lucknow, also recommends exclusive breastfeeding to the mothers of newly born children for first six months of a child’s life. However at times mothers are unable to breastfeed and in such situations she follows the WHO recommendation of supplementary food so that the child gets adequate nutrition as far as possible. She cautions that it is important that the bottle, utensils such as spoon or bowl, which are used to feed such children who cannot be breastfed adequately, must be clean and sanitized. Dr Garg recommends lentil or rice water, vegetables and fruit juices after five months.

There is no substitute to exclusive breastfeeding, said Dr Santosh Rai, senior paediatrician, Vatsalya Clinic, Lucknow. Breastfeeding helps the child develop antibodies and boosts up child’s immunity significantly, and such positive health outcomes cannot be optimally received by any supplementary food. Also Dr Rai cautions that bottle-feeding a child also ups the risk of getting milk in her or his respiratory tract (instead of food pipe) which can cause a form of pneumonia. If we don’t provide exclusive breastfeeding to a child and use supplementary food for child’s nutritional needs then we are also opening up a gateway for infections, said Dr Rai.

There is no substitute to exclusive breastfeeding for a child during first six months of life – this is a clear message that all experts I interviewed have endorsed.

Neeraj Mailani - CNS
(Translation: Bobby Ramakant – CNS)