Mother’s milk protects the child against pneumonia

Right after birth children should be given mother’s milk only for first six months of their lives because it protects them from infections such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, among others. “Mother’s milk has desirable and beneficial antibodies that help the child protect herself/ himself against pneumonia and other infections. That is why it is strongly recommended that mothers should exclusively breastfeed their child for the first six months” said Dr Abhishek Verma, Senior Paediatrician, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Gomti Nagar, Lucknow.

“We counsel and prepare the woman on exclusive breastfeeding when she registers herself for antenatal care. At the time of birth and during postnatal care too healthcare workers make an extra effort in stressing benefits of breastfeeding. Most mothers are comfortable in breastfeeding their child however in some cases mothers aren’t in a position to breastfeed and incidence of childhood pneumonia, diarrhoea, malnutrition and other associated health problems is higher in such children who aren’t breastfed” said Dr Verma.

“We don’t advise feeding children with bottles. When children require additional nutrition then we recommend home-made food only and mother’s milk is the best food for the baby, especially for first six months. Milk other than mother’s milk doesn’t have enough nutritional value for human being’s baby that is why we make all efforts to ensure that the mothers breastfeed their children” said Dr Verma.

“When the child is born then they don’t have a strong immunity to fight diseases. That is why children are unable to defend themselves from infections. But if the child is breastfeeding then she or he gets enough antibodies that help fight the infections and build body’s own defence mechanism (immunity) against such diseases. Children who get exclusive breastfeeding are likely to be protected from conditions such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, common cold, diarrhoea, among others. That is why we encourage the mothers to exclusively breastfeed their child for first six months at least” said Dr Rama Shankhdhar, senior Gynaecologist and Obstetrician in Indira Nagar, Lucknow.

“In some cases despite medication mothers are unable to produce enough milk. We still recommend that they should breastfeed as far as possible and complement with additional nutrition as required so that the child doesn’t remain hungry. When mothers are able to normally produce enough milk for the child, then there is no need to give anything other than her milk to the child. Mother’s milk is the best nutrition a child can get for first six months. However when mother’s milk is not enough then they can feed the child using bottles. When the child is of 3 months age then they can also give filtered lentil water” said Dr Shankhdhar.

Dr RS Dubey, Chief Medical Superintendent (CMS) of Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Gomti Nagar, Lucknow also supported that children after birth should be exclusive breastfed for first six months. “When mothers try to feed the child using a spoon milk at times goes into the respiratory tract (instead of food pipe) of the child. Mothers should raise the head of the child while breastfeeding because then the risk of milk going into the respiratory tract is low. Children should be breastfed for first 6-12 months. This will also prevent the child from infections. That is why mothers of children born in our hospital are counselled and encouraged to exclusively breastfeed their child for first six months” said Dr Dubey.

A child who was born in Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital to parents who live in Ismailganj slums (behind this hospital) provides a reality check. The mother (Rekha) of this pneumonia-stricken child (Tulsi) said that she was not counselled or given information about breastfeeding. However as per the tradition she did breastfeed the child. Despite breastfeeding her child developed pneumonia. From the same slums we also spoke to three more mothers with pneumonia infected children (Jyoti, Yasmeen and Fareed) who had breastfed their children but still their children developed pneumonia. Upon closer review, there are other risk factors in the slums that increase the risk of pneumonia for children such as exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, smoke from cook stoves, malnutrition, among others.

Mother’s milk gets easily digested by the child. So breastfed children are less at risk of facing indigestion or diarrhoea as risk of infection is low too.  A child till six months of age is not required to take any other food except mother’s milk as it contains all required nutrition.

Nadeem Salmani - CNS