That breastfeeding is beneficial for both the mother and her baby, has been established. It helps create a bond, while also protecting the newborn from allergies and diseases. Breast milk provides nutrition and is rich in vitamins, protein and fats that help in the baby’s growth. It also contains antibodies for the little one to build an immunity against viruses and bacteria.
While it is a personal choice, doctors usually advise exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life. According to Dr Krishna Prasad J R, consultant – paediatrician, Motherhood Hospital, Electronic City, Bangalore, babies that are breast-fed for six months have fewer cases of ear infections, respiratory illness and diarrhea. “No infant formula can replace breast milk in terms of quality. Breast milk is also easily digested and available wherever or whenever your baby needs it,” he says.
But, for how long should breastfeeding continue?
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the mother should feed her infant with breast milk for at least six months, following which, complementary foods can be introduced. But, breastfeeding is recommended for two years or longer.
Dr Prasad says one should regularly breastfeed in the early weeks at least 8-12 times a day.
“This will ensure a healthy milk supply. In the first few weeks post birth, feed your baby on demand (whenever they feel hungry). This can be every two hours; as they get older, they will nurse less and the feeding schedule will become predictable.” He adds that the newborn should not go without feeding for more than 4 hours (even overnight).
But, what happens if the mother is not able to keep up with the feeds?
The solution to this problem is combination feeding. “Some babies may want to breastfeed every 2-3 hours and sometimes mothers may not be able to keep up. In such cases, they can choose to feed the child both breast milk and baby formula,” the doctor advises.
This can be done when:
* When exclusive breastfeeding is not an option.
* They might not be available to feed their babies round the clock.
* They may have underdeveloped breasts, or they are unable to make enough milk.
“Combination feeding ensures that your baby is not hungry and gets all the nutrients they require,” the doctor concludes.