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Breastfeeding: Healthy mothers - Healthy babies

24/2002, 04.10.2002

The National Committee for the Promotion of Breastfeeding draws attention to this year's World Breastfeeding Week

This year's World Breastfeeding Week from 1 to 7 October in Europe has the motto "Breastfeeding: Healthy mothers - healthy babies". It highlights the fact that breastfeeding not only contributes to the health of the baby but also to the health of the mother. This has prompted the appeal by the Breastfeeding Committee to politicians as well as the groups and institutions concerned to give their full backing to breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding increases the mother's self-confidence and reduces parents' uncertainties about the right food for their child. The maternal hormones released during breastfeeding encourage the involution of the uterus, the staunching of bleeding and lochia. Since breastfeeding uses energy, it simplifies the weight reduction desired after pregnancy. Exclusive breastfeeding where the baby is given the breast frequently offers protection (albeit not 100%) against renewed pregnancy in the first six months after giving birth. Women who breastfed their babies for a longer period are far less prone to breast cancer than women who did not breastfeed. Other factors which contribute to the well being of the mother are that breastfeeding is practical, free-of-charge and possible anytime, anywhere.

Babies who are exclusively breastfed thrive in the first months of their lives better than babies who aren't breastfed. During the first year of life breastfed babies become ill less frequently. The special ingredients in breast milk have a long-term impact on the immune system which means that immunological diseases during childhood and adulthood like diabetes mellitus and coeliac syndrome are less prevalent in breastfed individuals. Many large-scale studies have demonstrated that breastfed children, depending on how long they were breastfed, are less inclined to obesity in later life than children who were not breastfed at all or only for a short period. Breastfeeding makes possible optimum intellectual development in line with the child's abilities.

A study conducted by the Research Institute for Child Nutrition in 1998 showed that 90% of the women who gave birth in clinics wished to breastfeed their children but that only few of them reached the planned breastfeeding duration or the desired six months of exclusive breastfeeding. Aside from the conditions in the maternity hospitals which are not always conducive to breastfeeding, there must be many other reasons why mothers breastfeed their babies for a shorter time than they actually want to. According to the results of this study, it is during the first few weeks at home that many mothers wean their babies or only partially breastfeed them. Here, there is a particularly comprehensive need for help and support.

The World Breastfeeding Week aims to increase public awareness and support for breastfeeding. It is organised by the World Alliance Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and supported by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). "Mothers need support to enable them to breastfeed for as long as they want. Pressure from the family, a workplace hostile to mothers or social pressure have a negative impact on breastfeeding. That's why women need the support of their baby's father, society, the health system and grandparents", explains UNICEF Director Carol Bellamy.

The National Committee for the Promotion of Breastfeeding would like to draw attention to its publications which are available on the BgVV website (www.bgvv.de) under Institute/Committees and can be downloaded from there. They contain information on possible sources of support as well as general recommendations on breastfeeding, the promotion of breastfeeding in hospitals and questions about infant formula for breastfed babies and breastfeeding under special circumstances. Information is soon to follow on the compatibility of working and breastfeeding. Inserts for the maternity logbook and children's early detection examination records, which provide information on breastfeeding, are available free of charge through the e-mail address: stillkommission@bgvv.de

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