breastfeeding
Breastfeeding mother (Representational picture) Pixabay

Breastmilk is the best source of food for all babies wherever they are, but all the more necessary in emergency settings where there is a high risk of diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition, said World Health Organisation citing the recent cyclones in Mozambique.

"When women don't have enough food to eat, they worry that they won't produce enough milk. They are sometimes convinced they should switch to formula milk," says Hana Bekele, expert in child health and nutrition deployed from WHO's office in Harare, Zimbabwe, to Mozambique for the response to Cyclone Idai. "Breastfeeding women need everyone's support."

In emergencies, displaced mothers may struggle to find comfortable, private places to breastfeed and their support network of family and friends is often not accessible. With the right support from a health worker, a woman who is already doing some breastfeeding can increase her milk production within days just by feeding her baby more frequently, while establishing safe "corners" for mothers and infants would go a long way, said WHO counsellors.

In a statement issued just after Cyclone Idai hit, WHO, together with UNICEF, World Food Programme, Save the Children and World Vision International, called for all responders to the emergency in Mozambique to identify the needs of breastfeeding mothers.

"We urge all stakeholders not to accept or distribute donations of breastmilk substitutes including infant formula, bottles and teats to the affected population...It is crucial that breastfeeding is not unnecessarily disrupted by disease outbreaks or illness affecting mothers or children," said the joint statement.

WHO also trains health workers how, when and where they can use breastmilk substitutes in cases of emergency.

Recent Studies

It should be noted that a research team at Children's National stated that breastfeeding boosts metabolites important for brain growth or newly born babies. The lead author of this particular study, Katherine M. Ottolini said, "Key metabolite levels ramp up during the times babies' brains experience exponential growth."

However, as per the data provided by WHO, weight management in breastfed children has also been shown to be relatively easier when compared to unfed ones. Breastfeeding is also known to reduce the risk of Ovarian and breast cancer, post-pregnancy weight gain and osteoporosis. The first milk, called colostrum, diminishes chances of bacterial infections from the very start.

It is also known to help the uterus contract which expands heavily during delivery, by helping release oxytocin. It is also the best way to not be a victim of postpartum depression.

Statistically, though, despite the major positives, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) studies show that globally, only 41% of women opt for breastfeeding their children.

Modern techniques are now revolutionizing baby feeding -- from lab-made formulae to using breast pumps to preserve milk and administer as and when needed. These baby food items are only similar to breast milk, not identical, as they cannot provide enzymes and live cells like a breastfeeding session will.

breast pump
A portable breast pump YouTube grab

A breast pump, while helping control and monitor availability of milk, does not fulfil the feedback regime, where, based on the child's intake, the body increases or decreases milk production.

Why is there a sudden leap from the instinctual and traditional method of feeding in this technologically advanced era?

Eastern and South African countries practise breastfeeding more (56%) than countries like North America (26%), as per UNICEF's studies of 2018. In developed world, women can barely make the time to nourish their children, as their hunger cycle is not predictable. The negative attitude of family and friends in developed countries can be a cause of withdrawal for women. Public embarrassment is another cause cited and lactation problems faced by about 5% of the population is another problem.