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lunes, 18 de octubre 2021
18/10/2021
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Breastfeeding, a Source of Life

By: Natalia Piedrahita Tamayo- Journalist

Breastfeeding is an act of protection and resistance that guarantees the hormonal and chemical bond between mother and baby. In addition to the multiple immunological benefits of breast milk, breastfeeding is one of the pillars of sustainable development.

Tetarte is a Latin-American information project to demystify and promote breastfeeding. It was born in Chile and has spread to several countries, such as Colombia. Photographs: Courtesy of Tetarte. 

Oxytocin, a hormone produced in the hypothalamus —the brain's seat of various glandular products— is popularly known as the "love hormone". It is involved in social behaviors, affective relationships and feelings of trust and fulfillment. Breastfeeding is the most certain way for any human being to obtain breast milk from its primary source: the mother.

What's more, it's a gift for life. "Children who are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life and have complementary feeding until the age of two are 24% less likely to have diabetes and 14% less likely to be obese. They are also less likely to have heart attacks and cholesterol problems, which are two major causes of death in the world. Likewise, the possibility of sudden infant death is reduced by 36%", commented Paula Andrea Henao Mejía, pediatrician, teacher and researcher of the Nacer, Sexual and Reproductive Health Group, attached to the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Faculty of Medicine, Universidad de Antioquia.

Breast milk generates a hormonal and chemical connection that benefits the hypothalamus and provides the baby with security and calm. "In a world in need of solidarity, it is important to consider that it is easier for someone who is loved to give love. A child fed with this milk has a high chance of displaying more conscious behaviors and, in this way, they can contribute to equitable human development", said this international breastfeeding consultant.

The benefits are not just for the baby. For every year that a woman breastfeeds her child, she accumulates 8% less chance of developing invasive breast carcinoma and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also protects her from anemia, heart disease and depression.

"One of the characteristics of this nutrient is its uniqueness since it cannot be found in any other food in nature. Through colostrum —the mother's first milk— the child receives cells for their immune system and ingests immunoglobulin A. Moreover, digestive and respiratory protection is generated", emphasized Juan Carlos Burgos Castro, teacher at Universidad de Antioquia’s School of Nutrition and Dietetics.

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated from August 1 to 7. In 2021, the event coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) emphasizes the importance of involving the father, the whole family and society in the development of this action under the slogan "Protecting breastfeeding: a shared responsibility".

Breastfeeding has been both praised and demonized, criticized and debated in a society plagued by consumerism. The erotic or sexual connotation culturally attached to women's breasts has made many young women fear losing their beauty if they breastfeed their children. However, this is an activity that helps lose fat and, accompanied by a healthy diet, can benefit the female body.

"Breasts are an erotic factor, which has led certain sectors to veto their nutritional function. Moreover, the pharmaceutical industry for many years has tried to sell the idea that, because of their multiple occupations, women can be replaced in a process in which they are fundamental because no company can sell the antibodies or hormones that they do have", explained Henao Mejía.

Breastfeeding is also an ecological alternative that benefits society. In a world deteriorated by climate change and pollution, this practice favors sustainable development and equity.

"The infant formula industry contributes 7-10% of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, while breast milk is pure, drinking water, does not consume renewable energy and supports the economy of countries. Recently, in Denmark, a liter of breast milk was priced at 100 dollars. In developed countries, it is considered part of their gross domestic product or GDP, but other nations do not calculate its benefits, especially, in terms of the savings it represents in healthcare", said Paula Andrea Henao Mejía.

Challenges and Initiatives

Many companies promote products that claim to substitute breast milk, which is the best food. One possible solution is to enforce the legislation that currently exists and regulates companies and professionals involved in the breastmilk market. The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes is currently being violated, and there are no sanctions. This code, adopted in Colombia through Decree 1397 of 1992, brings together the rules to protect consumers, their families and healthcare workers from abuse from the industry's commercial practices.

In Colombia's legislative scenario, the system still faces great challenges in the comprehensive protection of women's sexual and reproductive rights. In the case of maternity leave, which is currently 18 weeks for hired employees, it is clear that it does not cover the time for exclusive breastfeeding, according to the experts consulted. Moreover, many mothers have informal jobs, which means that leave periods may be shorter or even non-existent.

Recent research has revealed that mothers who have been vaccinated or have had the disease can pass antibodies against covid-19 to their baby. Breastfeeding a child immunizes them against various dangers that await them in their interaction with the world.

Act 755 of 2002, or Ley María, allows fathers to have eight weeks of paid leave so that they can participate in this and other processes of the baby. In addition, Article 238 of the Substantive Labor Code specifies that mothers have one hour of breastfeeding leave per working day, from the time they return to work until the baby is six months old. However, it is of no use "if they do not have the conditions to express or store the milk correctly. That is why the Ministry of Labor established that companies that employ more than 60 women must provide adequate areas and refrigerators for milk conservation", said Paula Andrea.

Colombia has more and more initiatives that promote and support breastfeeding, such as the Breastfeeding Friendly Room of UdeA (see box), Leche League, Fundación Éxito, health centers and clinics. However, more female empowerment and knowledge of the subject are needed. "We need women who support women and who share their experience in breastfeeding to replicate it in society. We also need legislation that promotes breastfeeding and media that help to overcome the misconceptions about the subject. Universities can further enhance the training of their health professionals since the curricula do not include breastfeeding studies extensively", stated Burgos Castro. 

Universidad de Antioquia has a Breastfeeding Friendly Room that provides breastfeeding women who are part of the university community with a hygienic, friendly and safe place to breastfeed their children or express and store milk and then take it home to feed the baby.

"It is a place that aims to guarantee the right of children to maintain a healthy diet and promote the care of maternal processes. It also promotes an educational strategy that favors significant changes in terms of knowledge about breastfeeding", said Marcela Ochoa Galeano, director of Universidad de Antioquia’s Welfare Department. This place is open to the public thanks to a joint effort between the Faculty of Medicine and the School of Nutrition and Dietetics. 

 

 
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