In his broadcast to the nation in the middle of the Second World War, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain said: “There is no finer investment by any community than putting milk into babies – healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have”.
No doubt if he knew what we know today about the amazing wonders of breast milk he would have modified this statement to say “breast milk” instead of just “milk”.
Space will not permit me to list the wonders of breast milk, many of which stretch far into the child’s adult life – a decreased risk of dreaded diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and even some cancers, with improved intelligence. And these are just the benefits for the child. There are benefits to the mothers too! When mothers breastfeed, there is decreased the risk of Breast Cancer and Cancer of the Ovaries decreased the risk of diabetes, decreased the risk of depression after giving birth etc. The list is long and growing every day as the marvels of breast milk are uncovered by research.
The theme of this year’s week is “Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding”.
Empowering parents means equipping fathers and the rest of the family with the knowledge and skills they need to support the breastfeeding mother. When the mother is worried at 2 in the morning because her baby is crying non stop and she feels she is not getting enough milk or because her nipples are so sore and painful that she dreads the next feed, there should be a knowledgeable husband or grandmother or sister or a health worker in the community who will help her overcome the problem by helping her put the baby on the breast in the right way so that he does not “Chew” on the nipple, – or even just hold the baby so she can get some much-needed sleep.
Empowering parents means that we as health workers should be knowledgeable and learn how to help mothers solve problems like the ones I mentioned above, or even the more complex ones, like supporting the mother of the tiny preterm baby who cannot suckle, or the mother of triplets to also learn how to breastfeed exclusively. We can and should all learn the skills needed!! We learn to do complex surgical procedures and we can all certainly develop breastfeeding support skills!!
Empowering parents means that as a nation, we should be willing support the mother to be at home for six full months to invest breast milk into her baby so that as a nation we are assured that that baby will grow up to be a national asset, not a drain on the nation. If we cannot do that, we can at least assure that after 3 months when she comes back to work, she can come with her baby and have a safe place where she can continue breastfeeding as she works.
Empowering parents means creating an environment where everyone values breastfeeding mothers as National Treasures, building and investing in the future of the nation. Where when we see a mother struggling to breastfeed her baby, we applaud and encourage her rather than sew even more doubts into her mind about the quality or inadequacy of her milk, where we say to every breastfeeding mother “Yes You Can!!” rather than undermine her confidence by suggesting that her milk may not be good enough.
Empowering parents means obeying the laws of the land and restricting the advertising of formula feeds, which confuses parents with the glossy tins and make them feel that formula is as good as or even better than breast milk. No way! It does not even come close! We know there are genuine reasons why babies need formula, for example, if the mother is dead, or if the baby has one of a limited number of diseases. But only a tiny number of babies need really need it.
Let’s use the occasion of World Breastfeeding 2019 to redouble our commitment to protect the lives of and invest in the development of the next generation of Ghanaians by Empowering Parents to cherish breastfeeding and be prepared to do everything possible to make it happen.
By Dr Gyikua Plange-Rhule, Senior Lecturer, Department of Child Health, KNUST.