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Exclusive breastfeeding is a must within first six months

Updated on January 11, 2014
International Breast Feeding symbol
International Breast Feeding symbol | Source

Exclusive means exclusive!

Last week, staff of a leading hospital in Toronto recommended the mother of a 3 month old baby to breast feed alternating with artificial milk since the birth weight was 1.9 Kg at term. Since this is not a condition to avoid exclusive breastfeeding, I thought of writing making aware of the hubbers on the existing practice as well as latest research evidence on importance of exclusive breast feeding for the first 6 months of life.

This recommendation was proposed by none other than the Canadian Pediatric Society Nutrition Committee and adopted by the Board of Directors in March 2005, Health Canada, and the American Academy of Pediatrics section on Breast Feeding.

Exclusive means you need to give only breast milk nothing else; infant formula, juice, water, or solid food. This is because the marketing milk contains added sugar which eventually discourages the baby continue breast milk.

Of course, there are very few situations when breast milk cannot be given.

As you can see in the first graph, only one forth of the Canadian mothers breast fed exclusively 6 months or more in 2007-08 period.

Interestingly, as shown in the second graph, breast feeding levels did not vary by income level. This indicates that the practice is uniform across Canada.

Proportion of exclusively breastfeeding Canadian mothers

Graph 1
Graph 1 | Source

The practice does not vary by income level !

Graph 2
Graph 2 | Source

Irrespective of the educaitonal status, It is very clear that we should promote exclusive breast feeding.

Why we should promote Exclusive Breast Feeding?

Exclusive breast feeding provides many advantages both for the baby, mother and even for the whole family.

Benefits to the baby;

  • protecting the baby from diarrhea and other gut infections
  • reducing incidence of bacterial meningitis.
  • protecting the baby from chest, ear, and urinary tract infections.
  • reducing incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
  • increasing baby's cognitive performance.
  • helping to develop good oral motor skills, facial muscles and teeth alignment
  • developing a strong bond between mother and baby.
  • available at the right time and temperature

Benefits to the mother;

  • reducing incidence of breast and ovarian cancers of breast feeding mothers.
  • saving money and time for infant formulas and bottles.
  • environmentally friendly, convenient and free

When to stop breast feeding? No exact time to stop!

The recommendation emphasizes that the activity is exclusive for 6 months and continue to more. There is no exact time to stop.

With 6 months, baby should have complementary feeding in addition to the breast milk.

10 steps of breast feeding promotion

It seems irrespective of empowering mothers to breast feed exclusively, Supportive environment is the main determinant in the promotion of the activity. Various strategies are in place to ensure and nurture supportive environments.

Breast feeding Committee for Canada recommends following 10 steps keeping in line with the recommendations under the Breast feeding code of practice published by the World Health Organization.

1. Have a written breastfeeding policy in all healthcare places

2. Ensure all health care providers have necessary knowledge and skills

3. Inform pregnant women and their families about the importance of breast feeding and its process

4. Place babies in uninterrupted skin-skin contact with their mothers immediately following birth for at least a hour or until completion of the first feeding or as long as mother wishes:

5. Assist mothers to breast feed and maintain lactation

6. Support mothers exclusively breast feed for the first 6 months

7. Facilitate mother-baby 24 hour rooming-in [stay together]

8. Encourage mothers breast feed beyond 6 months with complementary feeding

9. Support mothers breast feed without artificial teats or pacifiers

10. Provide seamless transition from the hospital to community health services and peer support groups

What does World Health Organization and UNICEF say?

They recommend 4 simple but important steps:

  1. Start breastfeeding within the firs hour of life
  2. Exclusive breast feeding - only breast milk not even food, drink, or water
  3. feed on demand by the baby
  4. No bottles, teats, or pacifiers

Brest feeding promotion resources

There are number of resources to promote breast feeding in Canada.

Some of the are as follows;

1. All community health services in your area do have breast feeding clinics.

2. There are number of peer support groups and organizations;

3. There are number of books and videos free of charge.

4. There are telephone support in each community health services.

Create breast feeding support or companion group

There are number of breast feeding support or companion groups. You may join those or you can start your own one. Simply, you can use your experience and tips for remain in exclusively breast feeding practice in the first 6 months.

a great resource in Toronto



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