Jornal Médico – Pedro Correia Azevedo: Strengthening breastfeeding

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Read the opinion article by Pedro Correia Azevedo, coordinator of the Center for Studies in Obstetric Medicine of the Portuguese Society of Internal Medicine (SPMI), about breastfeeding and its benefits for both the mother and the baby, regarding the World Breastfeeding Week, marked from 1 to 7 August.

During World Breastfeeding Week, it is important to remember the benefits of breastfeeding. Nutrition has implications for children’s growth and development, and best feeding practices should be adopted soon after birth. Breastfeeding does not have an ideal duration – being the best food up to 2 years of age, its exclusive use is recommended for the first 6 months, and can be maintained with the introduction of other foods as long as the mother and child so desire.

It is important to Educate and Support mothers, families and society in general, so that Breastfeeding can be strengthened – and this is the motto of the World Breastfeeding Week 2022. In Portugal, some studies show that more than 90% of women start breastfeeding. breastfeeding, however, almost half give up in the first month of the baby’s life.

There is still a very important way to strengthen the message and reduce the fears of breastfeeding, starting with:

  • preparation for breastfeeding before birth with support and advice to parents by health professionals
  • the promotion of breastfeeding soon after birth
  • establishment and maintenance of breastfeeding through appropriate counseling
  • the social and commercial protection of breastfeeding as a good practice

Breast milk is a complete and easily digestible food that has many advantages for the child, namely the prevention of gastrointestinal, respiratory and urinary infections, but also of some allergies, it helps in the regulation of body temperature, facilitates the introduction of other foods and reduces the risk of childhood obesity. In the long term, adults who have been exposed to breast milk have a lower incidence of hypertension, diabetes, and lymphomas. From a maternal point of view, breastfeeding promotes contraction of the uterus and facilitates weight loss after childbirth, promotes attachment to the baby, reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. All this combined with a low financial cost and, in Portugal, social protection – breastfeeding mothers can request an adjustment in working hours.

There are temporary contraindications to breastfeeding such as herpes with breast lesions, untreated tuberculosis or the use of certain medications – at these times milk production should be stimulated and the baby fed an alternative. There are rare situations in which breastfeeding is absolutely contraindicated: this is the case for mothers with HIV/AIDS and babies with galactosemia. As alternatives to breastfeeding, the WHO recommends milk banks, wet nurses and adapted milk formulas.

COVID-19 is not a contraindication for breastfeeding and vaccination against COVID-19 is recommended for pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding.

At a time when we are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic and the world is experiencing several geopolitical conflicts, food security issues must be part of our concerns. In this global social configuration it makes sense to promote best practices and clearly breastfeeding is one of the best examples. For this, in society, we must be aware of the need to Strengthen Breastfeeding!

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