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World Breast Feeding Awareness Week
World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated from August 1st to August 7th every year, the aim is to increase awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding and improve the health of babies' worldwide. This initiative also promotes a wider push for maternal health focusing heavily on nutrition, poverty reduction and food security.
The initiative is organized and promoted by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). This organization is a global network that aims to promote, protect, support and encourage breastfeeding worldwide.
For many women, maintaining a healthy breastfeeding cycle is not always achievable, meaning that many women are not given the support they need to continue. Many women in Trinidad go out to work after the first three months of giving birth and the recommended time to breastfeed for a newborn without any other food is within their first six months of life. This makes it difficult for a working mother to maintain a healthy breastfeeding cycle, which means that once going out to work, the best thing for her busy schedule is to switch the baby to formula.
Making the decision to breastfeed is a personal matter, and many women get backlash and unwanted opinions from family and friends about the choice they've made. This is due heavily to many people today being uneducated about the wide variety that breastfeeding cannot only offer to the baby but to the mother as well. As said before, breastfeeding exclusively is recommended for the first six months of life and a year after while introducing other food into the baby's diet. Every mother and baby are different, it's up to you how long you'd like to breastfeed your child.
The main thing that every expecting and new mother needs when deciding to breastfeed, and here in Trinidad we do not fall short of that. The Breastfeeding Association of Trinidad and Tobago, is a nongovernment organization committed to giving support and bringing awareness to all about the benefits of breastfeeding. Their mission is, “to support mothers, babies and their families in breastfeeding through effective counseling and education while assisting all sectors of the community to appreciate the benefits of human milk.” In an interview with Rose-Mary Annatol, a long-standing counselor for the foundation, she explained further what the organization is all about, and why mothers should choose breastfeeding.
How did the association begin?
“It started in 1977 about 41 years ago at a time where there was no real support around for breastfeeding. To back track a bit, people has not been breastfeeding in the same way, things had changed to formula feeding. In the 1930s a lot of doctors and medical professionals were beginning to realize that an increase in infant formula was causing babies to suffer more illnesses and becoming sick and dying. That's when doctors began looking into a connection between good infant health and breast milk. There hadn't been a lot of research at that time, and so they were trying to encourage people to breastfeed and become more educated. In the 1970s when people began to get more interested in breastfeeding, there was not really any support and there was not much knowledge about how you should do it. It was around that time, that organizations around the world began popping up in an effort to help new and expecting mothers.
In 1977 we had someone who was a nurse and a midwife, trained in the UK, who returned to Trinidad and Tobago and started doing childbirth preparation classes. After the babies were born, the mothers began coming to her and saying that they wanted to breastfeed but needed help. It was the setting up of an organization to try to support mother's, it really just started out as a mother support group and grew from there.”
Why are expected mothers encouraged to breastfeed?
“I think everyone now recognizes the need, whether it is the World Health Organization (WHO), The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), American Academy of Pediatrics, or just medical personnel around the world, everyone now recognizes that human milk is the best form of nutrition for babies and young children. There's no dispute over that now, the amount of research that has been done over the past 20 years and has continuously found different benefits for breast milk. Human milk is living substance, it cannot be replicated, and it is a little bit like blood. It is not currently possible to make blood, and the same goes for human milk and there are things in human milk like antibodies, which can only be produced by a human being and cannot be manufactured in a factory. The protein, fats and everything that makes up human milk, is exactly what the baby needs.
This why I do not think that there is any dispute over the fact that human milk is the optimum choice for nutrition in infants and young children.”
What are the benefits for both mother and baby?
“With breast milk, there is less risk of things like; asthma, allergies, ear infections, diarrhea, and there's a reduce risk of childhood obesity. Childhood obesity if something we are very conscious of at the moment, we are almost approaching an epidemic of childhood obesity. Things like jaw and teeth development and a reduced risk of childhood cancers, everything is so much better when breastfeeding.
For the mother, there is a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer, a reduced risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. The most interesting thing that research is showing; is the reduced risk of breast cancer for women who breastfeed. Even female babies who have been breastfeed and then go on to breastfeed their babies, there's even a greater reduce risk for them as well.
So, as we can see there are many health benefits, and the significance as well is that the milk changes all of the time. Breast milk is never the same, and for instance, if a baby is born premature, the milk that the mother produces will have a slightly different content then the milk she would produce for a full term baby. It is as if the body knows that this baby should have been inside for a bit longer, and recognizes that the needs of the premature baby are very different. As the baby grows, the composition of the milk will change to meet the growing needs of the baby.”
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