World breastfeeding week (WBW) is celebrated every year, worldwide from August 1-7.
From 1992, WBW has been an annual celebration in promoting the health benefits of breastfeeding for infants, their mothers and society as whole. Each year honors a specific theme such as: women and work; community support; economy; science; and human rights. The theme for this year is ‘Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility’.
As such, the #WBW2021 focuses on how breastfeeding contributes to the health and wellbeing of all, and how we as a community have a shared responsibility and imperative to protect breastfeeding. The campaign stresses that while individual support is crucial, breastfeeding should also be considered a public health issue that necessitates investment at all levels.
The objectives for this year’s #WBW2021, are as follows:
- To inform the community about the importance of protecting breastfeeding
- To anchor breastfeeding support as a crucial public health responsibility
- To engage at an individual level and at an organisational level in order to achieve the greatest possible impact
- To galvanise action on protecting breastfeeding and other related issues in order to improve public health
We have all heard the saying “breast is best” and science has proven, and continues to show, that breast milk provides the best nutrition for babies. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends breastfeeding for 6 months and continuing to breastfeed after solids are introduced until the age of 1 or longer depending on the mom and baby.
The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding starting from the first hour of birth until 2 years old or longer depending on the individual needs of the mother and baby.
These recommendations are backed by scientific evidence and don’t come lightly. Breastmilk is loaded with antibodies that help babies fight off different infections and bacteria.
Colostrum, “the first milk” (also referred to as liquid gold for its buttery-yellow colour and precious qualities) is released by mothers who have just given birth, before the breast milk production begins. Colostrum is known to be especially nutritious, promotes growth, fights off/ treats infections, and boosts immunity in humans throughout life.
Breastmilk, its properties and its health benefits for babies and infants have long captured the attention of scientists around the world. We now know that breastfeeding reduces the risk of many diseases, promotes healthy weight gain in babies, and can even help with healthy brain development according to some studies.
While we hear about the benefits of breastfeeding for babies quite often, we don’t talk about the benefits of breastfeeding for the mother nearly as much even though research has shown that breastfeeding has great health benefits for mom too.
If you’re a new or expecting mother, here are some evidence-based facts on the health benefits of breastfeeding for you:
- Breastfeeding can help reduce your cancer risk. Research has shown that breastfeeding for over a year, can reduce your risk of breast cancer. Similarly, other studies have also shown that the longer you breastfeed, the less likely you are to get ovarian cancer.
- Breastfeeding is good for the heart. This may include but is not limited to the warmth and happiness you get from being close to your baby. A study published in 2018 showed that breastfeeding for at least four months lowers the risk of heart disease and hypertension by 20 to 30 percent. The study also showed that exclusive breastfeeding as well as part-time breastfeeding was beneficial to the mother regardless of the mother’s weight.
- Breastfeeding can help reduce your risk for diabetes. According to a 30-year study that was published in the JAMA International Medicine journal, women who breastfeed for 6 months or more reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by half during their childbearing years. This effect was also echoed in those who had developed gestational diabetes.
- Breastfeeding can provide protection from MS. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that impacts the central nervous system. In severe cases, the disease is potentially disabling. According to a study by the American Academy of Neurology, breastfeeding mothers who breastfed for 15 months or longer (over the course of one or more pregnancies), are 53 percent less likely to develop MS.
- Breastfeeding can help reduce the risk of developing postpartum depression. Postpartum depression (PPD) is extremely common and affects approximately 10 to 15 percent of the population worldwide. A study published in 2012 in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine found that women who breastfed for four months lowered their risk for PPD. However, for women who are suffering from PPD, breastfeeding can become extremely challenging.
Maha El Akoum, MPH, is a public health professional currently working as Head of Content at World Innovation Summit for Health [WISH].