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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

World Breastfeeding Week: Doctors extol benefits to mothers

As World Breastfeeding Week kicks off today, doctors are highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and baby. 

Susan Masha with her one-month-old daughter, Delight, at Al Baraha Hospital, which is celebrating World Breastfeeding Week. Reem Mohammed / The National
Susan Masha with her one-month-old daughter, Delight, at Al Baraha Hospital, which is celebrating World Breastfeeding Week. Reem Mohammed / The National

Breastfeeding has immeasurable benefits for both mother and baby, reducing infection risks and chances of cot death, a doctor said at the start of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week on Tuesday.

Dr Yusra Abo Hamed said breastfeeding also helps develop an emotional bond between mother and child, as she urged more new mums to make an effort to feed naturally.

“For babies, it has long-term benefits as it reduces the baby's risk of infections, diarrhea and vomiting, which results in fewer visits to hospital and clinics,” said the specialist in public health and preventive medicine.

“It also reduces cot death [sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS], childhood leukaemia, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease later in life.

“For mothers, the more they breastfeed, the greater the benefits are as it lowers the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and obesity.”

This year is the 25th year of World Breastfeeding Week, which aims to inform and engage more women in breastfeeding their children.

With the hashtag #WBW2017, organisers this week are trying to attract political support, media coverage, participation of young people and widen their pool of supporters.

The World Health Assembly wants to see at least 50 per cent of mothers worldwide exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months by 2025. Right now the global figure is just 36 per cent, 35 per cent in the Middle East and North Africa and the most recent data for the UAE is from 1995, when 23 per cent of infants were breastfed.

Fidaa Al Kindi, a 44-year-old Emirati mother of five who volunteers with the Breastfeeding Friend Association (BFA), which was set up in Sharjah in 2004, said that breastfeeding helped her discover a condition her daughter had.

“My daughter used to vomit and refuse to be breastfed and that raised my concerns and made me take her to several doctors and she was diagnosed with Angelman syndrome at the age of four months,” said Ms Al Kindi, of Sharjah.

Angelman syndrome (AS) is a rare neuro-genetic disorder that occurs in one in 15,000 births and affects the nervous system and causes severe physical and intellectual disability.

“The early detection of her rare syndrome gave us the opportunity to manage her situation and give her proper treatment that allows her to walk better.”

Events to mark the week are taking place across the country, with the BFA offering information about healthy diets for breastfeeding mothers, milk storage, the importance of breastfeeding for infants and how medicine affects breast milk at Dubai’s Al Baraha Hospital.

“We participate in World Breastfeeding Week along with about 170 other countries, offering useful information such as how to express milk and how to store it, as it can be stored in the freezer for up to six months and [we are] targeting working mothers,” said Ms Al Kindi.

“We managed to create breastfeeding rooms in all government institutions in Sharjah and we hope to make such facilities available across the country for all the working mothers.”

Rand Fansheh said that her mother used to tell her that each day you breastfeed adds a year to a child’s life.

“My mother and grandmother have always encouraged breastfeeding, saying it will add to the baby’s health and life and I took their advice with my two boys,” said the 31-year-old Jordanian mother of two who lives in Fujairah city.

“Although I’m a working mother I learnt how to store breast milk to be given to my child later.

“It [breast milk] boosts the child’s immune system and helps the mother lose weight after pregnancy, despite all the myths that it affects the shape of the breast and makes them gain weight.”

Another mother said that she breastfed her daughter during her maternity leave but had to give it up when she returned to work.

“Our visits to the doctor increased after I stopped breastfeeding her, she developed diarrhoea due to the formula milk and I changed it almost four times to find one that suits her,” said Sheikha Ali, an Emirati mother of three from Dibba.

“I couldn’t breastfeed her like my other two children as I’m working in a place one hour away from home and I didn’t have much information about expressing milk but I really regret it.”

Dr Abo Hamed said that any amount of breast milk is beneficial, and the longer mothers breastfeed their babies, the longer the protection lasts and the greater the benefits.

“It is recommended to give breast milk exclusively to babies for the first six months of life.

“Formula milk is made from cow’s milk and it can contain bacteria. It does not contain any cell or antibodies, therefore it doesn't protect babies from infections and diseases like breast milk does.”

Dr Abo Hamed said that almost all women are physically able to breastfeed, while frequent feeding and responding to a baby's demands offers the best chance to produce more milk.

“In general, breastfeeding should not be painful if the baby positioned or attached properly,” she said.

World Breastfeeding Week is coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action.

The Sharjah-based BFA can offer support by dialling 600 570001.

A doctor's view

“There are many myths surrounding breastfeeding that the mother acquires during her pregnancy that creates a sense of insecurity, fear and anxiety.

These have to be actively addressed to assure the mother that breastfeeding is the best way to nurture her baby.

A mother who needs to return back to work is another reason why women give up after having started breastfeeding.

While the alternative of commercially available formula feeds can be the easy option, they should be discouraged unless the situation warrants it.

Rwanda, Peru, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Nepal are some of the countries with proud breastfeeding figures ranging from 68 to 83 per cent.

This may sound contentious but breastfeeding should be instinctive, it need not be taught. However, every obstetrician should feel responsible for preparing and motivating her patient to breastfeed and extend her support and advice to achieve the best results.

The mother has to know that she is in charge of the baby; nature prepares her for breastfeeding and learning how to is simple.

The advantages of bonding and boosting immunity have to be explained and emphasised to the mother. It aids maternal weight loss too, and is proven for the optimal growth and development of the baby.

Working mothers have to be encouraged to use pumps to express the breast milk and preserve it for their infant’s use. Electronic pumps have made it easier and smoother to do so.”

Dr Sabiha Sabyasachi Banerjee, specialist obstetrics and gynaecologist at Canadian Specialist Hospital