Breastfeeding is the main way of getting the necessary nutrients for the newborn. Breastfeeding is also an act of communication between the baby and the mother, which strengthens their relationship and affection. Healthy breastfeeding practices have multiple positive effects on both baby and maternal health. At the same time, it is crucial to start feeding in the first hour after delivery and continue feeding for at least several months. However, there are various determinants that reduce the likelihood of breastfeeding or are barriers to it, which potentially hinders the healthy development of the child. Thus, the formation of healthy breastfeeding practices is influenced by various factors related to delivery, child and maternal health, socioeconomic characteristics, as well as the hospital.
The study of the relationship between breastfeeding practices in the first years of a child’s life and the subsequent health and development can be complicated by a number of factors. First of all, Belfield and Kelly (2010) note that breastfeeding is “not a monolithic activity of given duration and intensity” (p. 4). This indicates that this process can involve external factors, and it can also be combined with formula feeding. In turn, the composition of both breast milk and formula may differ, which may affect the result of the study. It is also important that the child’s development can be influenced by interaction with the mother, including the quality of the interaction and bonding (Belfield & Kelly, 2010). Thus, all the factors taken together make it difficult to assess the role and impact of breastfeeding on the growth and development of the child.
There are many factors that indicate the positive impact of the practice on both child’s and mother’s health. The researchers note that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends starting breastfeeding in the first hour after birth and maintaining breastfeeding as an exclusive feeding method for the next six months (Belfield & Kelly, 2010; Jayaseelan & Mohan, 2019; Ahmadi et al., 2021). This strategy has been shown to result in better health in children at 9 months of age, including the elimination of respiratory problems and improved motor function (Belfield & Kelly, 2010, p. 21). It is also important that breastfeeding has a positive effect on the development of the relationship between the baby and the mother, forming a healthier attachment (Belfield & Kelly, 2010; Ahmadi et al., 2021). At 24 months of age, breastfeeding for 6 months or more reduces the risk of developing obesity more (Belfield & Kelly, 2010, p. 21). At 54 months of age, there is a strong positive relationship between breastfeeding and the baby’s cognitive abilities and physical activity (Belfield & Kelly, 2010, p. 21). Thus, in comparison with formula feeding, the study results identify the prolonged positive effects of breastfeeding on better child health.
It is also important that breastfeeding is related to significantly lower infant mortality rates. Jayaseelan and Mohan (2019) note that breast milk in the first hours of life provides the baby with colostrum, which contains vital antibodies and lipids that are involved in the development of the intestinal and immune systems. The positive influence of the practice in the first hours after delivery on a mother’s health is also critically important. In particular, mothers who start breastfeeding in the first hour have better lactation, which allows them to produce enough milk for the baby (Jayaseelan & Mohan, 2019). This factor also provides a high likelihood of continued successful feeding for the next 6 months of life (Jayaseelan & Mohan, 2019, p. 4444). There is evidence that there is also a direct effect of lactation on maternal health associated with a reduced risk of developing “breast, uterus and ovarian cancers” (Jayaseelan & Mohan, 2019, p. 4444). These factors support the assumption of a positive effect of the practice on the health of both the mother and the child.
However, there are various determinants of breastfeeding that often interfere with maintaining healthy feeding patterns. Ahmadi et al. (2021) note that the statistical prevalence of breastfeeding initiation ranges from 41% to 59% across studies (p. 240). Notably, in different regions of the world, the percentage varies significantly, which does not allow researchers to accurately estimate the number of mothers who start feeding in the first hour and continue it for 6 months (Ahmadi et al., 2021). At the same time, this process is influenced by various factors, including the education, occupation, age of the pregnancy, type of delivery, the weight of the newborn, as well as even the characteristics of the hospital and hospital roommates (Ahmadi et al., 2021). Belfield and Kelly (2010) note that lack of parental care in the first hours after birth, as well as low birth weight, are often associated with impaired breastfeeding practices. Additionally, children of smokers, obese and working mothers are less likely to breastfeed (Belfield & Kelly, 2010). At the same time, high levels of education are positively associated with healthy breastfeeding practices.
At the same time, there are risk factors that most often lead to disruption of breastfeeding practices. Specifically, “a cesarean section is a considerable barrier to breastfeeding during the first hour after birth” (Ahmadi et al., 2021, p. 242). This assumption is also supported by Belfield and Kelly (2010), who argue that vaginal delivery is a strong determinant of the increased likelihood of breastfeeding. Additionally, a cesarean section can negatively affect milk secretion in the first hours after birth (Ahmadi et al., 2021). Research also notes that care from healthcare providers and families is negatively correlated with breastfeeding practice (Belfield & Kelly, 2010; Ahmadi et al., 2021). Additionally, socioeconomic factors, including education and income levels, greatly influence this process (Belfield & Kelly, 2010). It is also important that, as the WHO, many hospitals promote this practice in the first hours of life as a healthy option.
Thus, the practice of breastfeeding has a strong positive correlation to the development and health of both the baby and the mother. In particular, the best health outcomes are observed in both the first and subsequent years of life. Additionally, breastfeeding is a significant determinant of reducing infant mortality. At the same time, the practice of breastfeeding has a positive impact on the formation of a stable emotional connection between mother and child and the formation of healthy attachments. At the same time, breastfeeding can affect the prevention of various forms of cancer in mothers. However, a positive effect is observed only at the beginning of feeding in the first hour of life and its continuation for at least 6 months. In this regard, there are many determinants that determine the development of healthy feeding practices among mothers. Despite various hospital programs to promote breastfeeding, many babies are formula-fed due to factors of childbirth, socioeconomic characteristics, and health characteristics. In this situation, they have an increased risk of impaired developmental development and the formation of health pathologies at a later age.
Ahmadi, M., Moosazadeh, M., & Ahmadi, M. S. (2021). Breastfeeding during the first hour after birth and its related factors in baby-friendly hospitals of Sari, 2018. Crescent Journal of Medical and Biological Sciences, 8(3), 240-245.
Belfield, C., & Kelly, I. R. (2010). The benefits of breastfeeding across the early years of childhood. Journal of Human Capital, 6(3), 1-48. Web.
Jayaseelan, J., & Mohan, A. K. (2019). Retrospective study to improve early initiation of breastfeeding in newborns. International Journal of Reproduction, Contraception, Obstetrics and Gynecology, 8(11), 4444-4447. Web