In its recommendations published in the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding, WHO says: “Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.”
Most child health professionals say that for the first six months, a baby – normal or premature – should depend only on breast milk and not be given even a drop of water. This is as much for the baby’s health as it is for the mother’s.
In the initial postpartum phase, breast milk secretion may be less. The mother needs to drink a lot of water and consumes food items like milk and dalia to increase lactation. There are three ‘B’s to a mother: brain, breast and baby. Once the baby starts latching on, the brain directs the breast to lactate.
According to Dr Sakeena Samar, Paediatric Nutritionist, Santosh Hospital, Bengaluru, till six months of age, the mother should feed the baby at a gap of two to three hours in a day and also when the baby demands more milk.
Some babies are born lactose intolerant. In such a case, the babies will not be able to even consume mother’s milk. Such babies are invariably very fussy and are always known to be colicky. Their stools may be watery and runny and the perianal area may develop redness. In such a case, the mother should stop breastfeeding the baby and consult the doctor. The baby may be given lactose-free milk available in the market.
If the mother is not lactating adequately or has a structural defect with the breast, a breast pump can be used to extract the milk into a bowl to feed the baby. If the quantity and quality of this milk is not enough for the baby, formula feeds may be added for increased nutritive value.
Although breastfeeding for the first six months is necessary, the longer the mother breastfeeds her baby, the better it is. It is not just healthy for the baby but also helps emotional bonding between the mother and child. You can breastfeed your baby up to even two years of age along with solid food.