Rachel Bibby cuddles with her napping son

Rachel Bibby cuddles with her napping son

Breast milk gives babies the best start

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated by parents and babies at the pregnancy outreach program in Vernon

With brightly coloured posters bearing slogans such as “Breastmilk, the first happy meal,” the pregnancy outreach program kicked off World Breastfeeding Week Tuesday with a celebration bringing parents and babies together to share stories, laugh and enjoy a snack.

“We had many program participants coming  to share their breastfeeding story with the group, and we all enjoyed beautifully decorated cupcakes,” said Caroline Huisken, who coordinates the program at the First Nations Friendship Centre in Vernon. “Breastfeeding is a learned behavior and seeing and being around other mothers who are breastfeeding is the best way to be successful at breastfeeding your own baby.

“At the pregnancy outreach program we promote breastfeeding as the first step on the road to optimal health.”

Huisken said keeping breastfeeding on the public health agenda is critical to improving global health.

“Early and exclusive breastfeeding with the introduction of appropriate complementary feeding around six months of age ensures that both mothers and infants receive maximum health benefits,” she said. “Many of our program participants shared their stories, their challenges and their successes. Breastfeeding is hard, especially in the first six weeks, but if you hang in there, it becomes easier all the time, and many mothers feel that when their breastfeeding routine is established, it becomes much easier then feeding formula.

“Sharing their stories supports other program participants to make choices regarding feeding their babies.”

The theme for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week is The Road to Lifelong Health Begins with Breastfeeding! In keeping with the theme, members of the program’s parent council (consisting of volunteer former program participants) decorated the space with bright, inspiring slogans, such as “Breastmilk is better than any udder,” “Breastmilk has no expiry date” and “The three reasons to breastfeed: #1 always the right temperature, #2 the cat can’t get into it, and #3 it comes in attractive containers.”

While malnutrition plagues numerous developing countries, rates of obesity are at an all-time high in many developed countries. The health and nutritional status of mothers and infants are directly linked, making appropriate infant feeding a critical first step in preventing these and a variety of other medical conditions.

“Poor feeding practices can lead to malnutrition and obesity, and contribute to an overall decline in the health and welfare of the population,” said Cathy Carothers, president of the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA).

According to the World Health Organization, infants who are not exclusively breastfed for their first six months of life are also more likely to develop a wide range of chronic and acute diseases and conditions including ear infections, diarrheal diseases, asthma, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and respiratory illnesses. In addition, mothers who do not breastfeed are at an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, jointly developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), serves as a roadmap toward a renewed commitment to exclusive breastfeeding beginning in the first hour of birth to achieve optimal health outcomes.