x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sharjah campaign promotes breastfeeding as way to cut down cases of autism

Marking a shift from earlier programmes that centred on therapy, the campaign launched by the Sharjah Baby Friendly Emirate Campaign hopes to have far reaching results.

SHARJAH // A campaign aims to reduce autism cases by promoting breastfeeding – a shift from earlier programmes that centred on therapy.

“Although there is a lot that we are still learning about autism, it is safe to say that one mother can do more to prevent autism in her child than all the doctors combined,” said Dr Hessa Khalfan Al Ghazal, director of the executive committee of the Sharjah Baby Friendly Emirate Campaign, at a conference at Dubai’s Rashid Hospital.

“Once a child is diagnosed with autism, we should still do everything possible to help them contribute positively to society. But if we only focus on therapy, we are missing half the story – prevention is always better than cure.”

Research has shown that breastfeeding strengthens the nervous system of the child and its mother.

Children with autism often struggle with emotional bonding and this is partly caused by low oxytocin levels. Studies have found that breastfed children have higher oxytocin levels, boosting their chances of avoiding autism.

Autism impairs a child’s social interaction, communication and imagination.

Experts believe many cases remain undiagnosed in the UAE but that prevalence rates are similar to other countries with similar lifestyles, such as the United States, where 1 in 150 children are affected, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers have evidence that mothers can reduce the number of autism cases, said Manal Abou Fakher, coordinator for the Sharjah campaign.

“We now know that autism is caused by a combination of physical and social factors,” she said.

“While the breast milk nutrients lower the risk from a physical perspective, the emotional bonding during breastfeeding also lowers the risk.

“On the negative side, autism and other behavioural and developmental disorders are on the rise in the UAE.

“But on the positive side, researchers have uncovered highly compelling evidence that mothers have the power to reduce the number of autism cases, contradicting previous beliefs that autism is impossible to prevent or treat.”

The Sharjah Baby Friendly Emirate Campaign was launched in March last year under the patronage of Sheikha Budoor bint Sultan Al Qasimi, chairwoman of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, Shurooq. She is also spresident of the campaign.

The initiative will focus on four areas – breastfeeding-friendly nurseries, mother and baby-friendly public places, mother-friendly workplaces and baby-friendly health facilities.

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