According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently released 2010 Breastfeeding Report Card, 75% of new mothers in the U.S. now start out breastfeeding, but only 43% are still breastfeeding at 6 months and 22% at 12 months. Even fewer are exclusively breastfeeding at 3 and 6 months, 33% and 13%, despite recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics and numerous other health organizations who recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life.
The AAP policy statement on breastfeeding cites the following reasons why breastfeeding is best:
- Reduced risk of infectious disease. It decreases the possibility that your child will contract a variety of infectious diseases – bacterial meningitis, respiratory tract infections, ear infections, and diarrhea to name a few.
- Reduced risk of SIDS. A study in New Zealand revealed that SIDS was three times higher in non-breastfed babies.
- Reduced incidence in other health outcomes. Some studies also suggest a reduction in the incidence of diabetes, lymphoma, leukemia, Hodgkin disease, overweight and obesity, hypercholesterolemia, and asthma.
- Enhanced cognitive ability. Children who were breastfed have tested slightly better on tests of cognitive development.
- Maternal health benefits. Mothers who breastfed experienced less postpartum bleeding, decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and return to pre-pregnancy weight faster.
- Cost savings for the country and for families. An April study published in the journal of Pediatrics suggested that exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life could save nearly 1000 lives and up to $13 billion in excess costs because of the reduced risk of illnesses and death. Add to that the savings a family affords from the lack of formula purchased.
The conclusion drawn from the CDC Report Card indicates that most moms don’t disagree. They are making an effort to breastfeed, but a lack of support is believed to be the main culprit behind low breastfeeding rates after birth.
The CDC points to the average levels of support that birthing facilities provide and hospital practices and policies that interfere with breastfeeding. Based on my own experience, I’d have to agree. According to the CDC, too few hospitals in the U.S. participate in the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a global program created by UNICEF and the WHO to recognize best practices in supporting breastfeeding. The Initiative promotes breastfeeding through these ten steps:
- Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
- Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
- Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
- Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
- Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants.
- Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breastmilk, unless medically indicated.
- Practice “rooming in”– allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
- Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
- Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.
- Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.
For a list of baby-friendly hospitals recognized by the initiative, visit www.babyfriendlyusa.org.
In addition to birthing facility and hospital support, the CDC recommends additional support through professional lactation consultants and legislative measures. The CDC recognizes that a strong network of professional lactation consultants (International Board Certified) is needed to assist mothers and infants, to create and administer lactation programs, and to educate other health professionals. I can attest to the benefits of a professional lactation consultant and think that every new mother should have access to one during the first few weeks of breastfeeding. I don’t know what I would have done without the wonderful lactation consultant I saw after my first daughter’s birth. To locate a board certified lactation consultant in your area, you can use the “Find a Lactation Consultant” search service provided by the International Lactation Consultant Association.
In terms of legislation, the CDC recommends laws supporting a woman’s right to breastfeed in public as well as laws supporting breastfeeding mothers who return to work. It hasn’t been well-publicized, but working mothers will be pleased to know that the Patient Protection Act passed as part of the health care reform in March requires employers to provide a private space and reasonable break time for nursing mothers to pump breast milk at work. I consider myself incredibly lucky to work for a company that is very working mother-friendly. In fact, just today, I saw an announcement that it was named to the Working Mothers list of 100 Best Companies for 2010. One of the criteria for all of the winning companies on this list was the provision of private lactation rooms, definitely key for a working mom to continue breastfeeding.
Resources and sites for more breastfeeding tips and support, including those discussed in this article:
American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Breastfeeding
Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative in the US
La Leche League International
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