By Faranak Bakhtiari

COVID-19 highlights benefits of breastfeeding

July 31, 2021 - 17:16

TEHRAN – Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies and protects them against illness, disruption of breastfeeding can lead to a decrease in protective immune factors contained in breastmilk so that the next generations could be more vulnerable to future pandemics.

The COVID-19 pandemic drew special attention to strengthening the immune system, which basically comes from childhood nutrition.

August marks the start of World Breastfeeding Week, an annual campaign to raise awareness for breastfeeding around the world. Founded by World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), it works to support, empower, and encourage individuals in their breastfeeding journeys.

World Breastfeeding Week was first celebrated in 1992 and is now observed in over 120 countries by UNICEF, WHO, and their partners including individuals, organizations, and governments.

This year, the theme highlights the links between breastfeeding and survival, health and wellbeing of women, children, and nations.

Iran ranks first in West Asia for breastfeeding immature newborn infants, as 11 breast milk banks have been established in the country.Breastfeeding is the best way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of babies. However, there are instances where a mother is unable to breastfeed or where she has decided not to breastfeed.

In addition, the widespread marketing of formula milk undermines the confidence of many mothers and encourages them to feed their babies using bottles and formula milk.

However, this might affect the children’s immune system and make them more prone to newly emerging infectious diseases.

In Iran, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated annually on August 1-7, aiming to inform people about the link between breastfeeding and good nutrition, food security, and poverty reduction, establishing breastfeeding as a basis for a healthy life, participation of individuals and organizations for greater impact, strengthening the situation to promote breastfeeding as part of good nutrition, food security, and poverty reduction.

Iran ranks first in West Asia for breast milk banks

Iran ranks first in West Asia for breastfeeding of immature newborn infants, as 11 breast milk banks have been established in the country, head of mother’s milk bank of Al-Zahra hospital in the northwestern city of Tabriz said in August 2020.

Breast milk donation is as important as blood donation due to saving lives of so many premature babies in hospitals whose best nutrition is breast milk, Mohammad-Baqer Hosseini said.

Recalling that breast milk banks are widely active all over the world, he said that milk banks have been active in European countries for nearly 100 years.

Worldwide, about 600 breast milk banks have been established, with the first established in Austria, he noted, adding, there are currently 210 breast milk banks in Europe and Brazil alone has 210 milk banks.

Human milk is pasteurized so that there is no risk of transmitting infectious diseases, even in case of AIDS or any other diseases, he said.

In July 2016, the first breast milk bank was established in Al-Zahra Hospital of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, with the financial support of the Ministry of Health.

Since then, 10 breast milk banks have been set up in the country, two of which are located in Tehran, and others in Mashhad, Zahedan, Ahvaz, Kermanshah, Shiraz, Kerman, Tabriz, and Yazd are active and one is being launched in Isfahan.

Breastfeeding, a unique process

Breastfeeding provides ideal nutrition for infants and contributes to their healthy growth and development while reducing the incidence and severity of infectious diseases, thereby lowering infant morbidity and mortality, and contributing to women's health by reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and by increasing the spacing between pregnancies. It also provides social and economic benefits to the family and the nation and provides most women with a sense of satisfaction when successfully carried out.

Recent research has found that these benefits increase with increased exclusiveness of breastfeeding during the first six months of life, and thereafter with increased duration of breastfeeding with complementary foods, and program intervention can result in positive changes in breastfeeding behavior.

Improving breastfeeding practices could save the lives of more than 800,000 children under 5 every year, the vast majority of whom are under six months of age.

Beyond survival, there is growing evidence that breastfeeding boosts children’s brain development and provides protection against overweight and obesity.

Mothers also reap important health benefits from breastfeeding, including a lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

The life-saving protection of breastfeeding is particularly important in humanitarian settings, where access to clean water, adequate sanitation, and basic services is often limited.

Only about two in five children (42 percent), the majority born in low- and middle-income countries, were breastfed within the first hour of life. While this is a slight improvement from 37 percent in 2005, progress is slow.

Attainment of this goal requires, in many countries, the reinforcement of a “breastfeeding culture” and its vigorous defense against incursions of a “bottle-feeding culture”. This requires commitment and advocacy for social mobilization, utilizing to the full the prestige and authority of acknowledged leaders of society in all walks of life.

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