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Breastfeeding benefits mother, baby and community. (Photo by Jerome Ascano)

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for babies for up to two years and beyond. We have heard of this all too many times before. Do we truly understand what this statement, from the world’s authority on health no less, means? Here is an overview of breastfeeding facts and benefits:

Breastfeed exclusively. Breast milk alone is the best food and drink for an infant for the first six months of life. No other food or drink, not even water, is usually needed during this period.

Skin-to-skin facilitates breastfeeding. Newborn babies should be given to the mother to hold immediately after delivery. They should have skin-to-skin contact with the mother and begin breastfeeding within one hour of birth.

Breastfeed often and on demand. Almost every mother can breastfeed successfully. Breastfeeding the baby frequently causes production of more milk. The baby should breastfeed at least eight times daily, day and night, and on demand.

Breastfeeding fights sickness. Breastfeeding helps protect babies and young children against dangerous illnesses. It also creates a special bond between mother and child.

Not breastfeeding risks baby’s health. Bottle feeding and giving a baby breast milk substitutes such as infant formula or animal milk can threaten the baby’s health and survival. If a woman cannot breastfeed her infant, the baby can be fed expressed breast milk or, if necessary, a quality breast milk substitute from an ordinary clean cup.

Breastfeed with care. If a woman is infected with HIV, there is a risk that she can pass the infection to her infant through breastfeeding. In the first six months, this risk is much greater if the infant is fed both breast milk and other liquids and foods than if fed breast milk alone. Therefore, it is recommended that the baby receives breast milk alone for the first six months, unless it is acceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable and safe to give breast milk substitutes (infant formula) exclusively.

Working moms can breastfeed. A woman employed away from her home can continue to breastfeed her child. She should breastfeed as often as possible when she is with the infant and express her breast milk when they are apart so that another caregiver can feed it to the baby in a clean and safe way.

Extended breastfeeding is full of benefits. After 6 months of age, when babies begin to eat foods, breastfeeding should continue for up to two years and beyond because it is an important source of nutrition, energy and protection from illness.

This list barely scratches the surface of the abundant benefits that breastfeeding gives to babies, mothers and the community. But knowing all of these and keeping them to heart is a great start.

Source: Facts for Life (4th ed.). (2010). New York: UNICEF, WHO, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNDP, UNAIDS, WFP and the World Bank. Retrieved from www.factsforlifeglobal.org.

Crash Course in Breastfeeding:

Step 1: 8 Breastfeeding Facts to Get You Started

Step 2: Unang Yakap: What You Deserve on Your Baby’s First Hour

Step 3: Fourth Trimester: What to Expect After Birth

Step 4: Breastfeeding Myths

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