For generations, mothers in India established the first bonds with their children through breast milk. Children grew up healthier. There was little need to spend money on artificial foods because breast milk gave babies all the nutrition they needed. Then came along the infant food suppliers with their expensive ad campaigns. Suddenly breast-feeding became too unfashionable and old-worldly. It was decried as being a barrier to a woman's freedom and something, which affected her beauty.

Fortunately, the advantages of breast-feeding are now being realised. Now more and more women are beginning to realize and admit that breast milk is a healthier option for their babies as compared to powder milk.

Benefits of breast-feeding

  • The nutrients in breast milk also ensure that babies are far less susceptible to infections. Breast milk does not need to be stored at the right temperature or heated or measured and mixed.
  • A breast-fed baby suffers fewer respiratory infections and allergies.
  • Breast milk also offers protection against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Certain disease-preventing immunities are passed on from mother to child.
  • The incidence of blood infections, meningitis and diarrhoea is also reduced considerably.
  • The benefits for mothers include fewer incidents of pre-menopausal ovarian and breast cancer.
  • It enables mothers to control their weight, it also helps the mother and baby to forge a bond together.
  • Recent studies have proved that babies who bonded with their mothers in their early years had improved interpersonal and mental skills.
  • The benefits derived from breast-feeding are not only physical but also psychological.
  • In monetary terms, breast milk saves a family as much as Rs. 300 each month in formula costs.

Advice for breast-feeding mothers

Although this is a natural act, it may take a while for the mother and baby to get used to.

  • Mothers are often discouraged by well-meaning but ignorant relatives, friend's etc. who tell them that babies need something more nutritious than breast milk. Just remember that until your child is six months of age, nothing can be more nutritious than breast milk. On the other hand, it is artificial foods and cow's milk, which are unhealthy for the baby's system. Human milk contains the right amount of fatty acids, water and amino acids required for digestion, brain development and growth. After that, you might need to supplement exclusive breast feeding with solid foods, though not artificial foods, but you still need to continue breast-feeding.
  • Another fear that mothers feel is that perhaps their baby will not get enough milk. Mothers should remember that wet nappies and a steady weight gain of about 500 gms every month mean that the baby is getting the required nourishment.
  • Breast-feeding, within the first hour of life, is especially beneficial to the baby. This milk contains colostrum, a yellowish creamy milk which is produced for 2 or 3 days after the baby's birth. This milk is very nourishing and contains the antibodies needed to protect a child from infections.
  • Breast-fed babies are healthier because the mother's milk transfers to the baby certain antibodies to disease. There is also a psychological bond that is developed between mother and child. The child feels a sense of security when it is suckling at its mother's breast.
  • The benefits don't end there. Sucking at the breast promotes good jaw development. It also helps mothers lose weight, since nursing helps use up extra calories. The womb, which stretches to hold the growing baby, regains its normal size thanks to a hormone released by breast-feeding. Lactation also stimulates the uterus to contract to its original size. Frequent nursing also suppresses ovulation, making it less likely that a mother will menstruate, ovulate or get pregnant. As a natural contraceptive, however, it cannot be relied upon.
  • Babies are always prone to infection. A bottle, even if sterilised, may still be contaminated and lead to diarrhoea in the infant.
  • If you breast-feed your baby, you will also be contributing to the economy. Breast-feeding saves costs through reduced maternal and infant mortality. It enhances a woman's complementary roles as providers of child-care and enhancers of income. This proves that breast-feeding is both economically and environmentally significant.

There is nothing that beats mother's milk for complete nutrition for a baby. If you want to ensure that your baby receives nothing but the very best, don't look at artificial foods for the solution. Mother Nature already took care to equip you with the best food for your little infant.