Grooming healthy immune systems 

The recently concluded World Breastfeeding Week presented an excellent opportunity to talk about its importance and ensure healthier growth and immunity in babies 

Breastfeeding is the most intimate form of connection the mother and the newly-born child have with each other. To celebrate this beautiful bond and to spread awareness about the same, every year, the first week of August is celebrated as World Breastfeeding Week. The theme of this year’s Breastfeeding Week was, ‘Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet’.

But with this ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, a large number of questions occupy the minds of the new mothers. To understand the importance of breastfeeding, and how it impacts the health of the newborn, especially amid the pandemic, Dr Jyoti Khatri, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynecologist at Motherhood Hospital in Noida had some valuable insights to share.

Talking about Covid-19 and how it is increasing anxiety in breastfeeding mothers, she says, ” As per the guidelines laid down by WHO, women must continue to breastfeed during the pandemic as this is extremely crucial for the baby to survive. So far, the transmission of infection through breastfeeding has not been established. In fact, breast milk acts as a protective shield to the newborn and helps in boosting the immunity of the infant.”

Mother’s milk, Dr Jyoti says, contains antigens, antibodies and bioactive factors that will help the baby fight against Covid in case he/she is exposed. “Mothers must be extremely cautious and follow good hygiene practice while feeding the baby. In case the mother falls sick she can feed the baby with a cup and spoon that can be washed before and after use and it can be put in boiling water for further safety”. She further mentions that mothers must maintain respiratory hygiene and also use a mask in case they experience symptoms such as coughing, sneezing etc.

If a mother is tested positive for Coronavirus, Dr Jyoti advises them to continue breastfeeding the infants. She mentions that there is currently no study or data to conclude vertical transmission of Covid-19 through breastfeeding. “In fact, the risk of Covid infection is usually low among infants and the infection could be either mild or asymptomatic. Therefore, mothers can continue to feed their babies using all the precautions while doing so.”

Talking about the precautions, Covid positive mothers should take while breastfeeding, Dr Jyoti highlights the importance of maintaining a high level of hygiene. “It is important to wash hands with soap before and after touching the baby. Wearing a cloth face mask is advised for feeding mothers and maintaining hand hygiene is extremely crucial. If the mother feels too unwell, she can consider using breast pumps to express milk and a caregiver/spouse can feed the baby.”

To understand the diet that the breastfeeding mothers should intake, Dr Jyoti highlights the importance of having a wholesome and healthy meal at regular intervals. “Food intake must include protein such as milk, nuts, fish, meat, eggs etc. In addition, eating at least three servings of leafy vegetables including dark and yellow ones are important. Mothers can also include garlic, ginger and turmeric in their food, which will also boost their own immunity. They must continue with their calcium and iron supplements during feeding. Mothers must also eat food that enhances lactation such as carrots, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds and oats,” she says.

As per World Health Organization guidelines, exclusive breastfeeding for six months is advised with no other fluids or solids. However, Dr Jyoti says, “Mothers can continue to breastfeed until two years combined with solid food. The transition from exclusive breastfeeding to solid food must be also carefully done keeping in mind adequate nutrition for the baby.”

This Coronavirus pandemic has also given everyone the opportunity to talk about boosting immunity and highlighting the importance of breast milk in a healthy immune system, Dr Jyoti says, “Breast milk contains all the right nutrients in the right quantity for the baby. It almost acts like a vaccine as it contains antibodies that protect your child from viruses and bacteria. For the first six months, the baby’s immune system is weak and it is vulnerable to diseases like cold and cough, ear infections, gut infections etc. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of such diseases and improves the health of your child.”

Breastfeeding also helps in maintaining optimal body temperature for the baby, therefore, playings a vital role in building a robust immune system. “Studies have also proved that breastfed infants respond better to vaccines and are less prone to catching infections when compared to a formula-fed baby,” Dr Jyoti adds.

Dr Jyoti also talks about the importance of taking precautions while stepping out as it will affect not just you, but also your child. “In case the mothers have to step out for work, etc they must take adequate precautions and follow the guidelines in order to keep the Covid infection at bay.”

One of the most common problems that working mothers face is balancing their work and mom-life balance. While the importance of breastfeeding cannot be ignored and it might get difficult to do so, Dr Jyoti also provides a quick solution. “Breast pumps are a good option and especially a boon for all the working mothers. It is completely safe to use the pump; however, it is imperative to sanitise all the parts of the breast pump regularly and religiously.”

Pumping is also extremely helpful in case the baby is premature or cannot latch properly. “Moms can use a breast pump to express milk if they plan to resume working. Store the expressed breast milk in a clean air-tight glass container or a special breast milk storage bag. The duration of storage depends on the temperature at which you are storing it. At room temperature, it is advisable to use it within four hours. If you are keeping it in the fridge, you can store it up to 3-4 days, and if you keep it in the freezer, you can keep it safe up till two weeks. And if you want to store it for even longer, you can keep it in a deep freezer (-20 degree Celcius), where it can be used up to six months or a year.

Dr Reshma is an advocate of wellness, prevention and holistic health. Instagram handle: dr.reshmakhattarbhagat

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