Noting that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life offers significant health benefits for both mother and child, lactation experts at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) say family support, especially from a woman’s spouse, is the key to successful breastfeeding.
Speaking about the importance of breastfeeding on the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week, Dr. Amal Abu Bakr Arbab, HMC Lactation Consultant and Program Lead for the Women’s Wellness and Research Center’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), says creating awareness about the importance of breastfeeding among mothers and fathers is a priority. She says learning to breastfeed effectively is a process that takes time.
“Education about the positive benefits breastfeeding brings to babies and their mothers should be our greatest priority. We need to educate mothers, fathers, and other family members about how breastfeeding can positively impact the health of both baby and mom. We also need to help families understand that breastfeeding is a learning process which can take time and is acquired through observation and teaching,” said Dr. Arbab.
Breast milk provides all the energy and nutrients that an infant needs. It promotes sensory and cognitive development and protects the infant against a number of infectious and chronic diseases. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces infant mortality from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia and helps ensure a quicker recovery from illness. Breastfeeding has also been shown to strengthen the bond between mother and child, aid in postpartum recovery, reduce the risk of postpartum bleeding, anemia, breast and ovarian cancers, and hypertension.
“During the first few months of life, infants should be exclusively breastfed, meaning they only receive breast milk and no other food or drink. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding and appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age. Breastfeeding is the natural and recommended way of feeding all infants,” notes Dr. Arbab.
Dr. Arbab says breastfed babies receive protection from acute and chronic illnesses through the mother’s milk. She says breastfeeding provides unsurpassed natural nutrition and contains numerous protective factors against infectious diseases.
“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), infants who are not breastfed are at an increased risk of illness that can compromise their growth and raise their risk of death or disability. Around 1.3 million deaths globally can be prevented each year by exclusive breastfeeding,” states Dr. Arbab.
Dr. Arbab noted that the WWRC’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is recognized by the WHO. She says it is important for families to know that the WWRC’s Breastfeeding Clinic provides essential services and support to mothers who want to successfully breastfeed, including mothers who are having difficulties breastfeeding.
“It is our practice to help new mothers initiate breastfeeding immediately after birth. This practice is evidence-based and can stimulate the mother’s body to produce enough milk by putting their baby to the breast and having skin-to-skin contact immediately after delivery until the baby complete his or her first feed,” says Dr. Arbab.
Dr. Arbab notes that most women can successfully breastfeed with the support and encouragement of hospital staff. She says family, peer, and community support are also vital.
“All mothers, particularly those who might lack the confidence to breastfeed, need the encouragement and practical support of the baby’s father as well as their family and friends. Health workers, community workers, women’s organizations, and employers can also provide support,” she adds.
WWRC’s Breastfeeding Clinic operates daily between 7.30am to 12 noon and plans are underway to introduce an evening clinic. The clinic receives upwards of 15 women each day.
To mark World Breastfeeding Week, HMC will host a number of events across its network of hospitals for staff, patients, and visitors. An exhibition gallery will be set up in the main entrance at WWRC and will include educational resources and presentations on breastfeeding. The exhibition, which will remain open from 1 to 7 August, will also include small discussion groups where women will meet each day between 9am and 1pm to talk about their experiences with breastfeeding. Al Wakra Hospital will host an interactive information booth in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department. The booth, which will be staffed by lactation specialists and nursing staff, will remain open from 8am to 12pm between 5 and 9 August.