Breastfeeding – the first 6 months of life

Breastfeeding – the first 6 months of life

Increasing optimal breastfeeding practices could save an estimated 1.5 million infant lives annually. Up to 55 percent of infant deaths from diarrhea disease and acute respiratory infections may result from inappropriate feeding practices. Optimal feeding for sustained child health and growth includes initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life, exclusive breastfeeding for six months, timely complementary feeding with appropriate foods, and continued breastfeeding for two years and beyond.

During the first 6 months of life, infants should be exclusively breastfed. This means that the healthy baby should receive breast milk and no other fluids, such as water, teas, juice, cereal drinks, animal milk or formula. Exclusively breastfed babies are much less likely to get diarrhea or to die from it than are babies who are not breastfed or are partially breastfed. Breastfeeding also protects against the risk of allergy early in life, aids in child spacing and provides protection against infections other than diarrhea (e.g. pneumonia). Breastfeeding should be continued until at least 2 years of age. The best way to establish the practice is to put the baby to the breast immediately after birth and not to give any other fluids.

Advantages and Benefits of breastfeeding are listed below. Some or all of them may be explained to mothers using simple language.

If breastfeeding is not possible, cow’s milk or milk formula should be given from a cup. This is possible even with very young infants. Feeding bottles and teats should never be used because they are very difficult to clean and easily carry the organisms that cause diarrhoea. Careful instructions should be given on the correct preparation of milk formula using water that has been boiled briefly before use.

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