The issue of breastfeeding vs bottle-feeding is really interesting. When I was a baby (so I am told), formula milk was touted as the ideal nutrition for babies. The addition stuff that was added into the milk was believed to enhance the baby's growth and well being. On top of that, it costs more to formula feed your baby, so there was also the issue of prestige involved.
Fast forward a few decades and the whole thinking has been reversed. Breast milk is now recognized as the better milk for babies. How we managed to come to the belief that Humans can create something better than what God has already provided, baffles me. It's almost like arguing that 3rd party spare parts are better than the original for your prized BMW.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
It is well recognized nowadays that breastfeeding confers many benefits for babies which includes:
1. Protective effects against illnesses like diarrhoea, lung and ear infections.
2. Protecting the child against the development of allergies like asthma, eczema and rhinitis.
3. Reducing the risk of obesity.
4. Some possibility that it may reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
5. Some link between the protective effect of breastfeeding and the development of certain cancers.
6. Better performance in tests of cognition.
7. Benefits to the mother like helping to reduce the mother to her pre-pregnancy weight as well as getting the uterus to return to its normal size. There is also evidence that breastfeeding also reduces the risk of breast cancer and perhaps ovarian cancer.
So how many mothers in Singapore actually breastfeed?
But the issue is not that mothers don't know about the benefits of breastfeeding. The majority do. But the problem is that a lot of mothers have (or think they have) an inability to produce adequate breast milk and also that most of them have to return to work after the maternity period which makes it difficult to continue breastfeeding.
In Singapore 95% of mothers actually do initiate breastfeeding, but at 2 months only 50% are still breastfeeding . By 6 months, this drops to only 21% which compares unfavorably with other developed countries like the US (33%) and Australia (45%).
Encourage Exclusive Breastfeeding for the first 6 months
Knowing the benefits of breastfeeding, the current drive is to encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of the infant's life. (This is the recommendation for healthy full term infants. The requirements for infants with special needs will need to to individualized)
For the first 6 months of life, healthy infants only need breastmilk and nothing else. There is no evidence that weaning the child at 4 months has any demonstrable benefits. Even after introducing complementary foods, the mother is encouraged to breastfeed the child until 12 months of age. Of course, if the child is not gaining weight appropriately while being exclusively breastfed, then medical help should be sought.
Do I need to give my baby extra water?
Another common question is whether babies need to be given extra water. The answer is no, not even in a hot climate like Singapore. Breast milk provides all the fluids needed in the first 6 months for the infant who is fed on demand. Giving the baby extra water may cause it to reduce its intake of milk and there is also a risk of water intoxication if too much is given. Babies who are ill or have diarrhoea will of course need medical attention.
OK, I want to Breastfeed, where can I find support?
So, you've decided to breastfeed your child? Great! You can find more information on support groups and other useful stuff at the Association for Breastfeeding Advocacy website.
Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents for the Healthcare Professional. Health Promotion Board 2007