The Ministry of Health is pushing for more Jamaican mothers to practice exclusive breastfeeding as it offers the best source of nutrition for babies, because of the many nutritional and other benefits that are derived from breast milk.
Portfolio Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, says "there is no better gift that we can give newborns than the gift of breastfeeding, which assists with their emotional development and overall health."
"I agree with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that breastfeeding is a child’s right," he states.
Speaking in an interview with JIS News, Director of Nutrition Services at the Ministry, Sharmaine Edwards, says the Ministry is encouraging mothers, to give their children the best start in life by making a concerted effort to breastfeed.
She says it is imperative that communities promote and practice breastfeeding as there are several nutritional and developmental benefits that children can gain. Importantly, breastfeeding enables the cognitive and sensory development of the child and a high intelligence quotient.
In addition, breast milk is the single most effective preventive intervention against several childhood illnesses including diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, gastro-intestinal infections, ear infections, childhood cancers, pneumonia, among other illnesses.
More recent studies have shown that breastfeeding protects children from death due to chronic conditions such as obesity and type 1 diabetes.
Not only does the act of breastfeeding protect the child, Mrs. Edwards says, but is also offers several benefits for mothers, including reducing her chances of contracting ovarian or breast cancers. It also facilitates the speedy reduction of weight gained during pregnancy.
"We are mindful that there are some mothers who cannot breastfeed," Mrs. Edwards says, advising that these mothers should learn how to express the milk or how to adequately and efficiently feed babies with commercially produced formula.
She informs that the proper way to express milk manually is to form a C-shape around the breast with the thumb on top and the remaining fingers underneath the breast. Once the C-shape is formed, the mother must "use that C-hold position on the breast above the areola, then press the chest wall with the fingers and pull them together until the milk squirts out."
Mother must also be mindful that proper storage procedures must be followed in an effort to keep the milk in a "drinkable" condition. She notes that colostrum, which is the first milk, has the capacity to stay on the counter for approximately five to 10 hours.
Breast milk, she says, can be stored for up two weeks in an "all-in-one" refrigerator; up to three months in the two-door refrigerators; while it can be stored up to six months in a deep freeze.
Additionally, Mrs. Edwards is advising all parents that direct heat must never be applied to the milk during the thawing process. She explains that the proper way to thaw the frozen milk is to swirl the bottle in a container of hot water for immediate use, or to place it in the cooling section of the refrigerator for at least a day before it will be used.
For mothers, who do not produce adequate amounts of breast milk and therefore have difficulty in expressing the milk, they can use formula. However, all mothers must ensure that they follow the manufacturer’s standards to prevent any harm to the baby.
Mrs. Edwards says breastfeeding is inexpensive as it does not cost the mother and is usually more convenient, as there is no mixing or lengthy preparation time.
She is imploring Jamaican mothers to preserve the practice in an effort to ensure that "we are making our children and families better for the future, thereby guaranteeing that we are nurturing the development of a healthy and productive population for the future".
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life in an effort to facilitate the optimal development of the child’s health and the reduction of infant mortality.
WHO also advises mothers to breastfeed within the first hour of birth, as regularly as the child demands, and without the use of bottles, teats or pacifiers, except in cases where the mother cannot breastfeed.
Jamaica observed National Breastfeeding Week from September 16 to 22.