Quick facts- Breastfeeding and its benefits

Education Features Health & Fitness HEALTH ALERT Lifestyle NATIONAL Science

by Dr Izuagba Kelech. U.

International Breast-Feeding Week is from 1ST -7THAugust every year


  • Breastfeeding is the feeding of an infant with breast milk directly from the female breast.
  • The optimal feeding recommended by WHO invoilves – Exclusive breastfeeding for the 1st – 6months of life followed by adequate complementary feeding while still breastfeeding until the child is at least 2 years.
  • This will supply the macro and micro nutrients in adequate amount for optimal growth and development of the child.
  • The physiology of breast flow is linked to response to stimuli of the anterior and posterior pituitary gland to release prolactin and oxytocin respectively when a baby suckles at the breast. This carries sensory impulses from the nipple to the brain cause MILK LET-DOWN (milk let-down reflex)
  • Oxytocin release is responsible for the milk let down reflex. It can further be stimulated by pleasant conditions in the parturient mother.
  • Pain, worry, doubt can hinder the reflex and can stop the breast milk from flowing temporarily


a. Exclusive breastfeeding:

  • as defined by WHO is the feeding of an infant for the 1st – 6months of life with no other food, drink or water but allows the infant to receive ORS (oral rehydration solutions), drops, syrups consisting of vitamins, minerals and other supplements when medically prescribed.

b. Complementary feeding:

  • This is the transition from exclusive breast feeding to family feeds i.e. giving a baby other foods in addition to breast feeding.
  • At 6 months, an infant’s need for energy and nutrient starts to exceed what is provided by the breast milk alone therefore, complementary feeds are necessary to meet those needs to avoid growth faltering.
  • Complementary feeds must be given in the most acceptable and digestible forms for the growth and development of the child
  • It should be responsive and food should be safe for consumption
  • Increase the consistency and frequency gradually

c. Supplementary Feeding

  • This is feeding that substitutes breastfeeding
  • They are feeds given to a baby under 6months to supplement his intake of breast milk where it is insufficient

d. Predominant Feeding

  • This simply means that the infant’s pre-dorminant source of nourishment is breast milk. However, the infant may have also received liquids and other drinks not medically prescribed.



  • This is the 1st milk produced in the 1st few days after delivery
  • It is usually small in volume
  • It has more protein, antibodies, anti-infective proteins, vitamin A than the mature milk
  • It has less fat than mature milk
  • It is regarded as the 1st immunization against diseases a baby will receive after delivery
  • It has mild laxative effect which helps the baby to evacuate meconium. This helps clear bilirubin in the gut thereby preventing neonatal jaundice
  • There are presence of growth factors which helps the baby’s immature intestine to develop thereby preventing baby from developing allergies


  • This is the milk that replaces colostrum
  • It is secreted 5-15days after delivery


  • This replaces transitional milk
  • It contains less protein but more fat
  • Comprises of foremilk (greyish milk) produced in large quantity, contains more water than the hind milk
  • Also the hind milk (yellowish) contains more fat for satiety
  • It is important that baby feeds on one breast per feed thereby taking the fore milk and hind milk
  • This will supply all the nutrients and adequate calories needed for growth and development


  • Carbohydrates e.g. lactose
  • Proteins e.g. lacto-albumin, cysteine needed for brain development
  • Lipids e.g. polyunsaturated fatty acids, TGS
  • Vitamins e.g. vitamin A,C,E but low in D,K,B12
  • Minerals/electrolytes e.g. potassium, calcium
  • Trace elements – low in iron


To the baby:

  • Confers immunity and protects against infections (immunologic function)
  • Contains right balance of nutrients needed for optimal growth and development
  • Reduces the risk of allergies e.g. juvenile asthma
  • As a mild laxative, meconium is easily evacuated and less risk of neonatal jaundice
  • Increases the IQ i.e. intelligent children. The taurine and cystein in breast milk help in brain development
  • Nutrients are easily absorbable
  • Helps in language, cognitive and perceptual development

To the mother:

  • Mother-to-child bonding
  • Enhances child spacing(lactational Amenorrhea)
  • Decreases the risk of ovarian, breast cancers
  • Helps to fasten involution of the uterus
  • Lowers the risk of post-partum hemorrhage
  • Gives personal satisfaction and fulfillment of motherhood
  • Saves time
  • Convenient and economical
  • Reduces pain by releasing oxytocin
  • Decreases the risk of maternal and infant mortality
  • Decreases the risk of osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis

To the family and community:

  • Saves cost
  • Safe for the environment e.g. no littering of cans


  • That breast milk is not enough for a growing child
  • If breast size is small, milk output will be small
  • That colostrum is a dirty milk and should not be given to the baby
  • That breast may sag as a result of breastfeeding
  • That it causes loss of sexual appeal
  • That it hinders sexual activity during lactation


  • It may be embarrassing outside the home especially in public places
  • Transmission of infections e.g. HIV, Hepatitis B is higher
  • Drug transmission e.g. cancer drugs and alcohol
  • Breast milk jaundice
  • Hemorrhagic disease of the newborn can occur since there’s low vitamin K in breast milk


  • Breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed a baby
  • The breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for the infant and are more easily digested than infant formular
  • Breastfeeding lowers the baby’s risk of having asthma and other allergies, reduces respiratory infections and bouts of diarrhea among other benefits
  • The best breastfeeding position is the one you and your baby are both comfortable and relaxed with. The best position is the “cradle” position. Therefore, positioning is very important
  • There are some common challenges with breastfeeding such as breast engorgement which is breast fullness that causes pain due to congestion of the blood vessels in the breast
  • Also inverted nipples, cracked nipples, sore nipples, breast infection (mastitis) are other challenges encountered during breastfeeding
  • Call your doctor if your breasts become unusually red, swollen, hard or sore; and
  • If you have bleeding from your nipples, unusual discharge etc.
  • The GOAL of breastfeeding is to achieve a healthy baby. Therefore, every mother should endeavor to exclusively breastfeed her baby.


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