Posted on August 30, 2014

Exclusive breastfeeding throughout a baby's first year, and beyond, provides safeguard against common childhood infections and reduce rates of admission to hospital for treatment of infections, according to Al Khor Hospital's (AKH) Breastfeeding Specialist and Lactation Consultant Dr Mohamed Ilyas Khan.

Dr Khan said that breastfeeding offers important health benefits for mothers and babies, adding that the World Breastfeeding Week (WBS), held during the first week of August, is an opportune time to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has been shown to be the single most effective way to prevent infant death. It plays a major role in a child's health and development and significantly benefits the health of mothers. The theme for this year's WBW was 'Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal - For Life!'

Dr Khan stressed the significance of exclusive breastfeeding, adding that both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Paediatrics agree that breastfeeding beyond the first year provides significant health and development benefits for the child and mother."In the second year of life children begin to come into contact with each other, putting them at risk of acquiring infections. This is also a period when most babies really start exploring their environment and putting everything into their mouth, increasing the risk of infection," the specialist said.

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Dr Khan maintained that children who are adequately breastfed beyond their first birthday are less likely to acquire infections, adding that those who do tend to recover faster than children who are not breastfed. "Children who are breastfed are less likely to become ill when exposed to common childhood infections. They are also likely to develop a permanent immunity against those infections. Many people do not realise that the benefits of breast milk continue beyond the first year in terms of providing the same concentration of protective immunity present during the first year," the specialist said.

Dr Khan noted that breastfeeding should be continued for as long as mutually desired by mother and child, adding that AKH's Breastfeeding Management and Resource Centre offers a number of consultation services for mothers and children, including help developing strategies for weaning. "When a mother decides to stop breastfeeding we help her stop gradually to ensure the process is smooth and is a good experience for her and her child," the specialist said, adding,"It may be important to mention that a mother may continue to have some milk in her breasts for many months after she has weaned her baby. It is not advisable to use drugs for drying up breast milk because of their adverse side effects." 

"We also encourage mothers to ensure they maintain adequate body contact with their child during the weaning period and also increase the number of meals the child is served per day. Increasing the interval between breastfeeds is also recommended," the specialist said. Dr Khan further said that it is important not to rush the weaning process, slowly tapering off how long and how often you breastfeed each day over the course of weeks or months. He maintained that a gradual approach to weaning can help both mother and child in making a smooth transition to a bottle or cup. "It is better to stop the night breastfeeding last if your child is resisting the idea of giving up feeding at bedtime," Dr Khan concluded.

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