Health & Fitness

How breastfeeding offers protection against numerous health complications

bfeeding

Summary

  • The Ministry of Health has raised an alarm over these increasing cases which predispose people to getting heart attacks or strokes.
  • The pressure may also damage kidneys, cause memory losses and lead to eyesight problems.
  • The commonly known risk factors for hypertension include obesity, advanced age, tobacco use, physical inactivity, family history of hypertension, high-stress levels, too much alcohol use, enhanced salt intake and minimal levels of potassium.

  • Aside from these factors, new research findings indicate that children’s nutrition during the initial months after birth, has a great influence on their chances of developing hypertension in adulthood.

Mercy, 38, suffers from hypertension (high blood pressure) that was diagnosed five years ago.

She developed the condition shortly after giving birth to her first-born child and had to be put on medication to effectively manage the ailment.

She is among the many Kenyans that are increasingly being diagnosed with hypertension among other cardiovascular disease ailments - driven by unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles.

The Ministry of Health has raised an alarm over these increasing cases which predispose people to getting heart attacks or strokes. The pressure may also damage kidneys, cause memory losses and lead to eyesight problems.

The commonly known risk factors for hypertension include obesity, advanced age, tobacco use, physical inactivity, family history of hypertension, high-stress levels, too much alcohol use, enhanced salt intake and minimal levels of potassium in diets.

Aside from these factors, new research findings indicate that children’s nutrition during the initial months after birth, has a great influence on their chances of developing hypertension in adulthood.

The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, specifically narrowed down to breast milk that is constantly promoted as the ideal food with all nutrients that babies need.

Indeed, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that mothers breastfeed their newborns exclusively for six months. Afterwards, they are required to complement the milk with other foods while still breastfeeding until the child reaches two years.

These are the key advocacy messages being reiterated as countries mark the ongoing World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7), so as to encourage mothers to embrace the practice.

The new study indicates that babies breastfed - even for just a few days after birth - have lower blood pressure as toddlers which may translate into improved heart health and reduced chances of hypertension as adults.

This beneficial effect is linked to a substance known as colostrum, which refers to the first form of milk produced by the breast immediately after birth and a few days thereafter.

This ‘first’ milk is known to be especially rich in growth factors, immune boosters and stem cells that are extremely beneficial to newborns and can only be found in human breastmilk.

"This is the first study to evaluate the association of breastfeeding in the first days of life and blood pressure in early childhood. Infants who received even a relatively small amount of their mother's early breast milk, also known as colostrum, had lower blood pressure at three years of age, regardless of how long they were breastfed or when they received other complementary foods," stated Dr Kozeta Miliku, the lead author of the study from the McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Aside from preventing high blood pressure, breast milk offers an array of other benefits for children which gives them a good start to life.

According to the WHO, the milk contains all nutrients that babies need in proper proportions. This ensures that babies have healthier weights as they grow. It also reduces their risk of developing obesity in childhood or when they are much older.

In addition, the milk offers protection against allergies and common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhoea that are major causes of child deaths in Kenya. Moreover, it helps to minimise the chances of children suffering from diabetes and cancer in future.

Breastfed babies also tend to enjoy high intelligence levels that are linked to improved well-being and economic status of individuals.

"The benefits of sustained and exclusive breastfeeding are well documented for numerous health conditions, including respiratory infections and diarrhoeal disease during infancy, and chronic conditions including asthma and obesity later in life," said Dr Azad, the senior author of the study and paediatrics professor from the Children's Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.

He stated: "Our study suggests that for cardiovascular outcomes such as blood pressure, even a brief period of breastfeeding is beneficial. This points to colostrum as a key factor in shaping developmental processes during the newborn period.

For many reasons, sustained breastfeeding should be strongly supported. It is also important to understand that each drop counts, especially in those critical first few days of life."

According to Dr Azad, doctors and public health policymakers should consider the importance of educating new mothers about breastfeeding and offering immediate breastfeeding support after delivery.

"Our study's results suggest the short-term savings from not providing in-hospital breastfeeding support and discharging moms too quickly could be greatly outweighed by the long-term costs from reduced cardiovascular health later in life."