Abu Dhabi: A healthy breastfed baby will visit the paediatrician 50 per cent less than a formula-fed baby, a medical specialist told Gulf News ahead of next week's 18th annual National Breastfeeding Campaign.

Over 100 mothers and children in pushchairs will be talking part in a two-hour walkathon across the capital city's corniche to raise breastfeeding awareness among women this week.

According to the World Health Organisation, between one-and-a-half and two million babies die each year because they were not breastfed.

In their mission to increase breastfeeding awareness across Abu Dhabi, the Al Corniche Hospital, managed by the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha), will be hosting a series of events in coordination with the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, who protect, promote and support breastfeeding worldwide.

"When babies are born their immune systems are immature and they can't fight bacteria and viruses on their own. That's why receiving the required protection from their mother's milk is vital. Nothing in formula milk will help protect babies against an infection," stressed Jane Abdul Ali, assistant director of nursing and midwifery at the Al Corniche Hospital — the sole maternity hospital in Abu Dhabi.

Influenza outbreak

The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) recently issued guidelines for clinicians regarding breastfeeding in order to prevent a further outbreak of H1N1 (swine) flu.

According to the CDC, breastfeeding can limit the severity of respiratory infections in infants and is particularly important for minimising the risk and effects of infection during an influenza outbreak.

"A mother may easily infect her baby through breastfeeding, thus a breastfeeding mother with H1N1 must be carefully monitored and treated as soon as possible," said Abdul Ali, who added that on average a women has to breastfeed a newly born baby eight to twelve times a day.

"If a baby needs more milk, the mother must not ignore the signs and should immediately give her child more milk," she added.

A non-profit, no sectarian organisation known as La Leche League (LLL) has also been very active in the past few years in providing breastfeeding women across the UAE further education, information, support and encouragement.

LLL of Abu Dhabi hold meetings every second Sunday of each month at 10.00am and have two hospital-grade rental pumps available for mothers in need.

"We are holding out a mother and baby tea party on November 8 where we expect over 100 mothers and babies to attend, many of whom are part of the LLL. The whole idea is for mothers to share their experiences of breastfeeding or breast milk, and highlight its importance," concluded Abdul Ali.

Do you think there is enough awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding among parents? Has the shift to bottle-feed been merely for convenience? Join the debate.