What is Exclusive Breastfeeding?
We often hear the saying “exclusively breastfeed your baby!”, but what does this actually mean? In a nutshell, exclusive breastfeeding means that only breast milk is given to your baby. So, it is needless to say that if you are giving your baby water, baby porridges or rooibos, you are not actually breastfeeding your baby exclusively. If we look at the exact wording of the definition is as follows: “The provision of only breast milk from the mother or a wet nurse,or expressed breast milk. No other liquids or solids are given except for mineral and vitamin drops or syrups.” (1). More recent terms rather use the words “exclusive breast milk” as some mothers might not be able to breastfeed their little one’s from the start.
What is the Guideline for How Long I should Breastfeed or provide Breast Milk for My Baby?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations International Children Fund (UNICEF) currently recommend the following on breastfeeding (2,3):
– Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour after birth
– Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months
– Continued breastfeeding for 2 years and beyond, together with, appropriate
complementary feeds starting from 6 months
Why Exclusively Breastfeed for 6 Months?
Breastfeeding for 6-months exclusively may seem like a long time to give only breast milk, especially when mothers are dealing with pressure placed on them by society as well intimate family members. So, let’s focus on why it is important not to give solids before 6-months of age.
Firstly, exclusive provision of breast milk for 6-months has shown to reduce infant mortality (below 5 years of age) by up to 13%. It is associated with improved growth, a decreased risk of diarrhoeal disease as well as a decreased risk for lower respiratory tract infection (4,5,7). Exclusive provision of breast milk for 6-months was not associated with weight loss, growth faltering or stunting (where infant does not growth in length or height.
Furthermore, exclusive provision of breast milk for 6-months also offers benefit to the mother. Mothers who exclusively breastfed for 6-months lost weight post-partum more rapidly than mothers who breastfed for only 3-4 months as well as demonstrated a delayed return of their menstrual cycle (6, 7).
In conclusion it is safe to say that exclusive breastfeeding for six months offers numerous benefits without risk. Although it is very tempting to want to give solids before 6 months “especially when your baby is attacking your plate of food”. Just remember, they are only small for a little while.
- WHO (World Health Organisation). 1991. Indicators for assessing breastfeeding practices. WHO Geneva, Switzerland: WHO document WHO/CDD/SER, 91,14.
WHO (World Health Organisation). 15 Jan. 2011. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months best for babies everywhere. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2011/breastfeeding_20110115/en/ Date of access: 22 Oct. 2014.
UNICEF (United Nations International Children Fund). 2017. Breastfeeding. https://www.unicef.org/nutrition/index_24824.html Date of access: 03 Jun 2017.
Byers, H. L. 2015. The benefits of breastfeeding. Virginia: Liberty. (Thesis- Honours).
South Africa. Department of Health. 2014. Protecting, promoting and supporting exclusive and continued breastfeeding: a breastfeeding course for health care providers toolkit. Pretoria.
Kramer, M.S. & Kakuma, R. 2012. Optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding review. Cochrane database systematic review. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD003517.pub2/epdf/standard Date of access: 15 August 2015.
Quigley, M.A., Carson, C., Sacker, A. & Kelly, Y. 2016. Exclusive breastfeeding duration and infant infection. European journal of clinical nutrition. http://www.nature.com.nwulib.nwu.ac.za/ejcn/journal/vaop/ncurrent/pdf/ejcn2016135a.pdf Date of access: 15 Sep. 2016.