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Breastfeeding makes your baby healthier

Written by GEMS - Government Employees Medical Scheme
Breast milk contains important nutrients and is one of the most effective ways to ensure the healthy physical and mental development of your baby.

It also contains antibodies that help to protect against dangerous illnesses, including the two most common causes of infant mortality worldwide – diarrhea and pneumonia. Breastfeeding also has long-term benefits for your baby. Evidence suggests that adults who were breastfed as infants often have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, as well as lower rates of obesity and type-2 diabetes.

Breastfeeding may help to reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer for the mother in later life. It has been shown to assist with weight loss after pregnancy, which can be helpful in adjusting to life with a baby. Many women also consider breastfeeding to be a special time of bonding with their child and an experience that both mother and baby can share together.

The World Health Organization advises that you should breastfeed for six months following the birth of your baby, before introducing other sources of nutrition. It is important to start breastfeeding within the fi hour of birth if possible, as this is when the mother's body produces colostrum, a thick and creamy liquid that is high in nutrients and is easily digestible for babies. Colostrum encourages the clearing of the baby's intestines, which helps to prevent jaundice.

While breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience, some women may find that it causes their nipples to become a little sore or cracked. To ease the pain, try feeding your baby with both breasts equally and allow the milk ducts to empty completely to avoid swelling.

You must also keep your nipples dry between feeds by changing your bra pads often. Don’t use perfumed creams or soaps as these can make dry and cracked nipples worse.

Some women may fi that they are not able to breastfeed. This may be as a result of oestrogen-containing birth control pills, illnesses or hormonal disorders and breast surgery. For these mothers formula is the best option. However, when using formula it is of the utmost importance that you wash the bottle and its rubber teat with clean water and that you sterilise them completely before feeding your baby the formula. You must also be sure that the water you are using to mix with the powdered formula is clean and safe for your baby to drink.

If I am HIV positive, can my baby get HIV from my breast milk?

Approximately 15% of children become infected with HIV from their mothers through breastfeeding, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef). However, antiretroviral (ARV) drug therapy in either the mother or HIV-exposed baby can significantly reduce the risk of transmission through breastfeeding.

It is important for HIV-positive mothers who are breastfeeding not to give their children any other liquids and/or foods, as studies have shown that exclusive breastfeeding for up to six months can lead to a significantly reduced risk of transmission. Studies have shown that certain factors in breast milk can directly fight cells that contribute to HIV transmission. Women who are HIV-positive and pregnant or with infants should consult a healthcare professional about the feeding options available to them and to discuss possible AVR therapy.

World Breastfeeding Week runs from 1 to 7 August.