World Breastfeeding Week 2018 (link) ends today. Kate’s six daily blogs for it have helped to explore in a UK context the key themes of nutrition, food security and poverty reduction which underpin the strapline Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life.
Breastmilk is uniquely tailored to the needs of the baby receiving it. The most critical time for epigenetic changes is from in utero to age 3 years so gene expression may be significantly affected by the nutrition the baby receives. Early nutrition also influences the development of the gut microbiome; vaginal birth, particularly at home, skin-to-skin contact and breastmilk help to seed the infant’s gut microbiome from the mother’s microbiota, and oligosaccharides in breastmilk are food for beneficial bacterial species. A healthy gut microbiome helps to programme the immune system and lessen the chances of the person developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Breastfeeding ensures food security, including in times of crisis, as even malnourished mothers can breastfeed and the baby thrive. There is no reliance on external supplies, equipment or hygienic conditions for preparation. Breastmilk is the most locally produced food possible.
Breastfeeding is a low-cost way of feeding babies. The mother may be hungrier and eat more so then there is an additional cost, but a minimal one compared to formula-feeding a baby, which in turn can increase poverty as there is less income available for the rest of the family.
In addition, and Kate has given details, not breastfeeding increases the health risks of both babies and mothers. This has consequences for society as it leads to increased healthcare costs.
The 4 objectives are to:
Inform people about the links between good nutrition, food security, poverty reduction and breastfeeding.
Kate described how she has incorporated it in her Year 7 teaching about reproduction and led a school assembly on it. Despite others’ misgivings, the reality was that the boys responded maturely.
Anchor breastfeeding as the foundation for life.
Engage with individuals and organisations for greater impact.
For example, in April 2018, the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) UK Steering Group organised a conference with the iHV (Institute of Health Visiting) at the Royal Society for Public Health; the conference summary has just been published.
Galvanise action to advance breastfeeding as part of good nutrition, food security and poverty reduction.
This needs education about breastfeeding in schools, workplaces, health professional training, parliaments……, with practical actions to improve support for mothers wherever they are and to encourage people to be supportive. The WBTi UK report in 2016 identified specific gaps, and recommendations to address those gaps.
Feature photo credit: Adobe Stock
Patricia Wise is an NCT breastfeeding counsellor and a member of the WBTi Steering Group.