August 1 to August 7 of each year marks the celebration of World Breastfeeding Week. From its inception by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in 1990, and since taking effect in 1992, the celebration has aimed at encouraging women to breastfeed for the all-around development of a child and spread the awareness about the need, importance and benefits of breastfeeding.
According to WHO, Infants not being breastfed properly are associated with an increased incidence of infectious morbidity like pneumonia and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also mothers who fail to breastfeed are associated with an increased incidence of premenopausal breast and ovarian cancer and metabolic syndrome. Therefore, breastfeeding is essential for an infant as well as the mother.
The “Convention on the Rights of the Child” states that every infant and child has the right to good nutrition; breast milk as the ideal food for infants, which is safe, clean and contain antibodies that help protect against many common childhood illnesses. Breast milk provides all the energy and nutrients that an infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year and up to one third during the second year.
As WHO and UNICEF recognizes breast milk as the best nutritional source for infants, together with many medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP), they strongly recommend that an infant must be breastfed within an hour of birth and should continue at least for the first six months of the child’s life. However, ideally, breastfeeding should continue till the age of two to ensure the healthy growth and development of the child.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
In 2017, WHO reported that “Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood”, breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, and are less likely to be overweight or obese and less prone to diabetes later in life. Women who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
This year marks the 31st anniversary of the celebration and the theme; “Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility” focuses on why it is imperative to protect, promote and support breastfeeding worldwide. Most people think breastfeeding is solely a mother’s responsibility, and also most fathers do not always realize how important their role is when it comes to breastfeeding and newborn care. They may even feel a bit left out since the mother is the only one who can ideally breastfeed the baby.
Breastfeeding is a shared responsibility between parents, as it is one of the paramount thing that contributes to the growth of a child. The loving support of the man is one of the most important factors in a woman’s decision to breastfeed. A study on the factors that positively influence breastfeeding by Shala et al., 2010, shows that when a mother has the support and encouragement from her partner, she’s more likely to be successful at breastfeeding and breastfeed for a longer duration of time. Having this support makes it easier to stick it out even when she is exhausted.
As a father, how can you participate in breastfeeding?
You may think there’s not much you can do to participate in breastfeeding, there are so many ways you can lend a hand. They include;
- Prepare for breastfeeding by reading and learning all about it. This involves you knowing the benefits of breastfeeding for your baby and your partner: https://www.healthline.com/health/breastfeeding/11-benefits-of-breastfeeding
- Sign up for a breastfeeding class with your partner and ensure to go to the doctor with your partner to show support.
- Showing support in joining your partner in the decision to breastfeed. On the days when breastfeeding is rough, some gentle encouragement from you can motivate her to continue.
- Lastly, be helpful with housework, cooking, and older children. Also, be caring and thoughtful by helping your partner to be in a comfortable position when it’s time to breastfeed.
Written by Favour Christiana Ogbuagu (Programs Assistant).