More good reasons to breastfeed

By Drum Digital
12 June 2014

How long should babies be breastfed and what are the benefits of doing so? Experts say breastfeeding up to the age of 11 months could prevent 13 per cent of deaths in children up to the age of five.

How long should babies be breastfed and what are the benefits of doing so? Dr Avron Urison from AllLife, an insurance provider for HIV-positive people, says exclusive breastfeeding from birth until at least 11 months could prevent 13 per cent of deaths in children under the age of five globally.

He adds that in addition to containing all the vitamins and nutrients newborns need in the first few months of life, breast milk is overflowing with disease-fighting substances that protect newborns from illnesses.

Urison says the replacement feeding option, in which the infant receives no breast milk but is instead fed with formula, is a nutritious alternative to breast milk however none of the antibodies found in breast milk are found in replacement feeding. This means formula doesn’t provide the baby with the added protection against infection and illness that breast milk does. For this reason, breastfeeding is highly recommended.

"Mothers who opt for replacement feeding option should seek professional medical guidance on the safety and appropriate use of formula," he suggests. "That way they can avoid poor feeding practices which may cause malnutrition, diarrhoea and possibly lead to death of children."

He adds that the situation becomes more complicated if the mother is HIV-positive as 25 per cent of babies born to HIV-positive mothers, who don’t receive antiretroviral treatment, will be infected with the virus, however the percentage drop to less than one per cent if those mothers are on HIV medication.

He says, “HIV-positive mothers, who are on the HIV treatment and are low-income earners and possibly have little access to clean water, sanitation and health services, should continue breastfeeding exclusively. This is due to the fact that without acceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable and safe conditions being met, formula feeding carries a greater risk of death compared to breastfeeding, which may contribute to the 13 per cent of deaths for children under the age of five, globally.”

However, in the case of higher-income earning women who are living with HIV and are on ARVs and whose access to clean water and health facilities isn’t restricted, Urison says replacement feeding is the better option because the risk of HIV transmission is far greater when breastfeeding than when using replacement feeding.

However, he recommends HIV-positive women go for antenatal counselling sessions on infant feeding to help them make the feeding choice that would be most appropriate for their individual situations.

- Sapa

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