By Conor O’Flynn of O’Flynn Medical
For centuries, the nutritional and psychological benefits of breastfeeding have remained undisputed across the planet. As a matter of fact, breast milk is known to be the perfect source of nutrition, following the protective immune factors found in it. However, the unprecedented occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic has precipitated a nutritional crisis, with more mothers worrying about the possibility of their babies contracting the virus through breastfeeding. Fortunately, the World Health Organisation advocates mothers confirmed or suspected to have coronavirus to breastfeed their infants. This is because breastfeeding benefits have been proven to exceed the potential risks of transmitting the virus from mother to child. This article discusses the benefits of breastfeeding in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1) Protection against Infections
While it is uncertain of its protection capabilities against COVID-19, breast milk is generally effective in fighting off potential infections. Breast milk holds antibodies that fight off viruses, bacteria, or any infection that is likely to put the child’s health at risk. Various African countries have been at the forefront in disseminating the right information concerning breastfeeding through the pandemic. As a result, breastfeeding has been significantly protected and promoted in the continent. This means that, as long as they continue to breastfeed, a majority of African infants are less prone to infections, including the coronavirus.
2) Introduction of Essential Nutrients
Mothers are recommended to breastfeed their babies within their first hour of birth and an exclusive breastfeeding period of 6 months. This applies even in the context of the coronavirus. During this period, babies acquire antibodies, all the essential nutrients, and other immunity factors fundamental for growth and development. A child’s immune system relies on a nutritional diet to fight COVID-19, which involves breastfeeding for a period of up to 2 years.
3) Reduced Risk of Medical Conditions
Although more research is still underway, breastfeeding is capable of lowering the risk of various medical conditions, such as cancer, obesity, and diabetes. As per the stipulations of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with underlying medical conditions like cancer, obesity, and heart failure are at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 illnesses. This means that feeding babies breast milk helps to protect them against serious complications resulting from COVID-19.
Benefits of Breastfeeding to Mothers
1) Promotes the Health and Wellness of Mothers
Scientific research reveals that consistent breastfeeding lowers the mother’s exposure or risk to ovarian and breast cancer. Also, breastfeeding is a potential control of osteoporosis. This is because breastfeeding women have reduced calcium losses from their urine.
2) Saves Time and Money
The most apparent benefit of breastfeeding is time and cost-effectiveness. Mothers do not have to buy milk formula, warm bottles, or sterilise bottles to keep their infants satisfied. Again, not everyone can afford milk formula. At such a time when the coronavirus pandemic has steered up a financial crisis globally, freely available breast milk comes in handy for most mothers.
3) Strengthens the Mother-Child Bond
Most companies in Africa have allowed mothers to be accompanied by their babies at their places of work. This enables mothers to have regular schedules for breastfeeding and bonding with their new-borns.
4) Induces Stress and Anxiety Relief
When breastfeeding, mothers are stimulated to release two primary hormones, including oxytocin and prolactin. Oxytocin is known for its psychological effects in mothers, particularly the induction of a state of mental calmness. The hormone also relieves the mother of stress and anxiety.
Tips for Safe Breastfeeding in Africa during COVID-19
To enhance protection, support, and promotion of breastfeeding across Africa, mothers and health workers must adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines. This way, mothers can initiate and sustain breastfeeding safely throughout the required 6-month period. Here are some tips to keep up with COVID-19 safety measures while breastfeeding.
1) Maintain Good Hygiene for COVID-19
It has been proven that breastfeeding is not a possible source of coronavirus. However, mothers are advised to maintain good hygiene during the pandemic by washing hands before and after holding the baby. They should also consider wearing masks while breastfeeding.
2) Follow COVID-19 Safety Instructions When Infected
Mothers who contract coronavirus after giving birth should exercise high levels of hygiene while breastfeeding. This includes following all the safety instructions provided by the healthcare service provider. Fortunately, breast milk contains antibodies that will protect the child against possible infection.
3) Use a Spoon or Cup to Express Milk
Mothers that are extremely sick should continue breastfeeding their children while remaining cautious not to transmit the virus to their babies. They can do this by expressing breast milk and having a non-infected person feed the child through a spoon or cup.
Breastfeeding is the first natural gift a mother can offer her baby for mental, psychological, and physical development. During the COVID-19 pandemic, mothers and communities at large should make all possible efforts to promote breastfeeding. This is because breastfeeding not only benefits the child’s health, but it is also good for the nursing mother in a lot of ways. These include enhanced bond with the baby, stress relief, and general wellness.