Breastfeeding advantages for Women’s Health
Dr Prashant Kumar Singh; Dr Shalini Singh
National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research
For the new-borns, mother’s breast milk is the natural first food. It provides all the essential energy and nutrients that an infant needs for the first six months of life and up to half or more during the second half of infancy and up to one‐third during the second year of life. Till recently, not much has been known about the positive health benefits of breastfeeding on women’s health mainly due to scattered pieces of evidence from across the world. However, recent global systematic reviews revealed interesting linkages between breastfeeding and positive health impacts on women.
Evidence from 98 studies conducted in both developing and developed countries found that mothers who breastfed had a 22% reduction in breast cancer risk compared with those women who never breastfed. Moreover, nearly 50 studies have shown that mothers who breastfed for >12 months had a 26% lower risk of developing breast cancer compared with those who did not breastfeed. Nearly 41 studies have shown that mothers who ever breastfed their children had 30% fewer chances of ovarian cancer when compared with those who never breastfed. Furthermore, the highest risk reduction was observed among women who breastfed for more than 12 months, among whom the risk of ovarian cancer was 37% lower than among women who had not breastfed. Studies also found reduced risk of type 2 diabetes with a longer duration of lifetime breastfeeding compared with shorter duration.
Longer duration of breastfeeding is strongly associated with lactational amenorrhoea – temporary postnatal infertility that occurs when a woman is not menstruating and fully breastfeeding. Lactational amenorrhoea method (LAM) is a ‘transitional’ form of contraception and is most effective in women planning to breastfeed exclusively during the first six months. However, many women do not use this method owing to its high failure rate, and uptake is low in many countries. A proper counseling is required for effective implementation of LAM as a family planning method which should include the physiological mechanism of lactation and its effect on reproductive function.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF recommend exclusive breastfeeding to the infant without any additional food or drink, not even water, for the first six months of life and continuation of breastfeeding for two years and beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding has increased from 46% in 2005-06 to 55% in 2015-16, with considerable variations across states. The latest National Family Health Survey conducted in 2015-16 recorded the median duration of exclusive breastfeeding 2.9 months at the national level. In Uttar Pradesh, the median duration of exclusive breastfeeding was 1.6 months, much lower than many states. Moreover, the level of exclusive breastfeeding in Uttar Pradesh is quite low at 41.6% in 2015-16 and sadly the state has witnessed a drastic decline in exclusive breastfeeding from about 51.3% in 2005-06.
Acknowledging the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched a flagship programme, Mother’s Absolute Affection (MAA) to create awareness among mothers on the benefits of breastfeeding. There is a need to create awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and children, as well as initiate steps to improve breastfeeding practices with the targeted community-based approach. For this World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from 1 to 7 August to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.