Breastfeeding plays a significant role in enhancing the health and nutrition status of children.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the milk contains all the nutrients an infant needs in the first six months of life.
It is also an immune booster that protects children against diarrhoea and common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia that can easily claim their lives.
Due to these immense benefits, the WHO urges mothers to exclusively breastfeed their children for the first six months of life.
Thereafter, to meet their evolving dietary requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods, while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond.
But breastfeeding alone is not enough. Mothers are encouraged to consume healthy meals during this period to enable the child get the required nutrients.
Yet, most women are oblivious of this fact. They choose to eat whatever they crave, not knowing that some of some of those edible products may be harmful to children.
A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that consuming high sugar levels during breastfeeding can harm babies.
According to the research, lactating mothers that rely on diets high in sugar levels risk impeding their infant’s proper development.
During the study, the researchers focused on 88 mothers who had consumed sugary beverages and juices during their first month of breastfeeding.
Their children were then assessed using the Bayley-III Scales of Infant Development at two years old.
The results of the study showed that mums who reported greater consumption of sugary beverages and juices had children with poorer cognitive development scores.
Cognitive development refers to how children think, explore and figure things out. It is the development of the brain, knowledge, skills, character and problem solving capacities that help children to think about, and understand the world around them.
Based on the findings of the study, the researchers speculated that added sugar from the mums’ diet was passed to their infant through breast milk. This exposure was thought to have conceivably interfered with brain development.
“Breastfeeding can have so many benefits. But we’re seeing that breast milk is influenced by what moms eat and drink even more than we realised,” stated Dr Michael Goran, the lead author of the study and programme director for diabetes and obesity at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
His previous studies focusing on the impact of sugar and family health, showed that mums who consume sugary beverages and juices in the months after giving birth were at risk for weight gain, and could also expose their newborns to these added sugars through breast milk.
Consequently, Dr Goran says limiting added sugars, found in beverages such as soft drinks, may have benefits not only for mothers but also for babies.
“Mums may not realise that what they eat and drink during breastfeeding may influence their infant’s development down the road. But that’s what our results indicate.”
According to the researchers, most people are aware of the effects of diets high in sugar among adults such as weight gain, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and heart complications.
This is because there has been heightened awareness creation about the matter, targeting the adult population, compared to children.
“Ultimately, we want babies to receive the best quality nutrition. Our findings may be used to guide future nutrition recommendations for mums during breastfeeding, to better ensure that babies are getting the right building blocks for cognitive development,” says Dr Paige Berger, postdoctoral research fellow and first author of the study.
Health experts recommend that breastfeeding mothers eat a nutritionally balanced diet comprising plenty of fruit and vegetable, as well as whole-grains offering high quality starch. They include brown rice, millet flour products (like porridge), whole-meal bread, and ugali made from milled flour, not the processed version.
They are also advised to shift to lean sources of protein such as chicken, eggs, pulses, lentils, fish and lean beef.
Breastfeeding mums also need plenty of water to replenish the amount that the body uses to make milk for the baby.
In addition to the balanced healthy diets, being physically active also helps lactating mothers to keep themselves and their babies health.
Aside from the healthy balanced diets, moderate physical activity is also recommended to keep the mother healthy and milk flowing.
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