The first week of August recognises an important health topic with World Breastfeeding Week. An initiative launched by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), it aims to promote and encourage breastfeeding to help improve the health of babies around the world. Celebrated in more than 120 countries around the globe, this year commemorates the 20thanniversary of World Breastfeeding Week.
Breast milk acts as both food and fluid for a baby, satisfying both their hunger as well as their thirst, and naturally fulfilling their unique nutritional needs up until at least 6 months of age.
As well, breast milk contains natural antibodies to support the baby’s immunity and can reduce their risk of developing digestive and respiratory illnesses as well as allergic conditions such as eczema.
The benefits of breastfeeding don’t stop in infancy, they can extend into the long-term. Adults who were breastfed as babies often have less trouble with health conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol and lower rates of type 2-diabetes and obesity.
The mother can also reap benefits from breastfeeding as the time spent feeding encourages bonding and attachment between the mother and baby. Recovery from childbirth seems to be accelerated in women who breastfeed and there may be a reduced risk of obesity as well as breast and ovarian cancer.
Australia’s Dietary Guidelines from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding of infants until six months of age, and continued breastfeeding with the addition of appropriate nutritious foods for up to 12 months, and beyond where desired.
Natural Support for Breastfeeding Mothers
Breastfeeding is a skill to be learned and it is common for women to encounter difficulties in the initial stages. Thanks to a combined initiative by WHO and UNICEF, there are over 20,000 health facilities globally that offer lactation classes, breastfeeding counsellors or other similar support for new mothers.
If breast milk is in short supply, some simple herbal remedies may assist. These herbs are known as having a ‘galactagogue’ action which means they can help stimulate the flow of breast milk.
Blessed Thistle – used traditionally by nursing mothers to help increase milk flow. This herb contains bitter properties which helps stimulate a weak appetite and may be of indirect benefit for babies who are poor feeders.
Fenugreek - has a long history of varied uses in herbal medicine, focussing around the female reproductive, digestive and respiratory systems. It is highly regarded as being able to help promote the production and flow of breast milk.
Shatavari – also known as Asparagus, this herb has a strong reputation in Indian Ayurvedic Medicine as a female reproductive tonic. Among its many uses, it is considered to support the healthy production of breast milk in lactating mothers.
Breastfeeding Support – combines the benefits of the two most popular lactation herbs Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle in a 2:1 ratio.
Breastfeeding places additional nutritional requirements on the mother so it is important her diet satisfies this demand with a focus on whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and ensuring adequate amounts of protein, iron and calcium. Staying well hydrated is also essential to keep milk production at its best.
For more information see:
World Breastfeeding Week: http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/
World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/breastfeeding/en/