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#MaternalMonday: 5 Key Benefits of Exclusive Breastfeeding for Mother and Child

Exclusive breastfeeding means that an infant receives only breast milk, with no additional foods or liquids, not even water. Breast milk contains antibodies that help babies fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers the baby's risk of having asthma or allergies. Also, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six (6) months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhoea.

In Nigeria, there are beliefs about feeding newborn babies that are dangerous to the baby’s health. For example, in some places, the baby is given food or liquids, such as water with sugar or pap, and other substances; before the child reaches the age of six months. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed infants for the child’s first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health.

Babies are expected to begin breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth (preferably within the first hour) and this should be whenever they want (on demand) because when a baby is exclusively breastfed, the breast milk meets all their fluid requirements. They don’t need water or any other drinks or food until they’re around six months old.

After six months, mothers should then introduce complementary foods (solids) to enable the baby to grow and develop but should also continue breastfeeding until they’re at least one year or older.

Listed below are 5 key benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for both mother and child:

1. A Healthier Mother and Child

According to infant nutrition experts, the incidences of pneumonia, colds and virus infection are reduced among breastfed babies. In addition to this, there are a lot of health benefits attached to breastfeeding for both mother and child, including providing the best nutrition for the newborn; easy digestibility of the breast milk and efficient use by the baby’s body; reduced risk of maternal and/or child obesity; protection against infections and other illnesses, e.g. chest infections, meningitis, ear infections and urinary infections.

2. It is Cost-Effective and Affordable

Baby formula in Nigeria costs an average of ₦1,500; in a month, a baby can consume about 2-3 tins of baby formula, which will cost an average of ₦3-4,500 per month. With exclusive breastfeeding, mothers can save up to ₦30,000 in 6 months, monies that can be used for other needs.

3. Promotes Mother-Baby Bonding

You have to read your baby's 'satiety cues' a little better, because unlike with a bottle, you can't see how much he's eaten. You have to rely on your own instincts and your baby's behaviour to know when your baby is full.

4. Better healing post delivery

The oxytocin released when your baby gets breastfed helps your uterus contract, reducing post delivery blood loss. Also, breastfeeding will help your uterus return to its normal size more quickly—at about six weeks postpartum, compared with 10 weeks, if you don't breastfeed.

5. Provides a Degree of Contraceptive Protection

Breastfeeding can be 98 % to 99 % effective as a post-baby birth control option if a few guidelines are followed: Your period must not have resumed; you must breastfeed at least every four hours, round the clock; you must not give your baby any pacifiers, bottles or formula; and you must be less than six months postpartum.

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