Breastfeeding is unequaled as a contributor to the optimal physical, cognitive and emotional growth and development of children. Mother Nature ensures a good start to health with the safest and healthiest food for babies. The nutritional process starts in the womb where the growing baby receives what is needed in preparation for the outside world, and it continues once the child is born. Indeed, for the first six months, breast milk is all the baby needs.
After the first six months, even as the baby begins to consume other foods, breastfeeding is still recommended – for two years or longer. Support these days, from family, friends, community health providers, and programs such as La Leche League, will help you provide the best nutrition for your baby.
It has been shown that breastfeeding lowers the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), along with many types of infections and allergies. Breastmilk may also help protect a child from health problems such as eczema, obesity, asthma and diabetes. Breastfeeding also helps reduce the baby's risk of obesity, pneumonia and other respiratory infections, gastrointestinal illnesses, urinary tract infections, ear infections and some childhood cancers. Plus, there is a link to lower risk of heart and liver disease when they adults.
Mom benefits as well. Breastfeeding helps her recover from the pregnancy and delivery sooner. It may also lower the risk for certain health problems including breast cancer. Perhaps best of all, breastfeeding helps build a strong emotional bond between mother and baby.
There are many more the advantages to breastfeeding from a public health perspective: it saves on the expense of formula and supplies; the source of milk is always available and already at the right temperature; and the reduced need for supplies is also more environmentally friendly!
Recognizing the advantages and importance of breastfeeding is important and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is striving to engage new mothers, families and staff to support the practice. VCH is committed to achieving the Baby Friendly Initiative designation (BFI). Started in 1991 by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the program encourages and recognizes facilities that offer an optimal level of care for mothers and infants. With a focus on the needs of newborns, mothers are empowered to give their infants the best possible start in life.
The first stage towards BFI accreditation is a self-appraisal process. There are 10 steps to achieve for the designation, the first of which is to have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely shared with all staff. Other steps include making sure pregnant women and their families know about the benefits and management of breastfeeding; helping mothers initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth; ensuring infants are fed exclusively with breast milk unless medically indicated; and fostering breastfeeding support groups for mothers upon discharge from the hospital.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.