By Shai Davis
This month, Solano Public Health joins the nation in celebrating National Breastfeeding Month to protect, promote and support breast-feeding practices. This year’s theme, “Support Changes Everything,” highlights the importance of building a supportive community to help new mothers get through barriers that discourage them from breast-feeding.
Benefits of breast-feeding
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of a baby’ life, followed by continued breast-feeding as complementary foods are introduced for a year or longer, as mutually desired by mother and baby. The recommendation comes from proven health outcomes that breast milk keeps babies healthy.
As a natural first food for babies, breast milk is uniquely tailored to meet the health needs of a baby’s growth. It protects babies against malnutrition and infections. It is easily digested and reduces the likelihood of constipation or diarrhea. It also reduces the baby’s risk of obesity, diabetes and other chronic issues. Breast milk changes as babies grow, so they get exactly what they need at the right time.
Breast-feeding provides a unique emotional experience for mom and baby. Many mothers feel a sense of fulfillment and joy from the bonding they experience with their child while nursing. Breast-feeding also provides health benefits for mothers, as studies show it lowers their risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
There are practical advantages for breast-feeding. For one, breast milk is much less expensive than formula. There are also no bottles that need to be washed and formula cans to throw away.
The need to support breast-feeding practices
Although exclusive breast-feeding is natural, it is not always easy. If there are lactation issues, this can cause a problem to the baby’s growth. It is especially harder for first-time mothers who are already feeling overwhelmed and do not have a lot of support from their family or health care providers.
There is still much work to be done to promote breast-feeding as a common practice among new mothers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in four infants is exclusively breast-fed by the time they are 6 months old. Disparities continue to persist, with black infants 15 percent less likely to have ever been breast-fed than white infants. Moreover, 60 percent of mothers stop breast-feeding sooner than they planned.
Breast-feeding works best when new mothers have a nurturing community to help them work through barriers. Family members, health care professionals, employers and health care systems all play a key role in providing this support, including:
• Learning about the benefits of breast-feeding and solutions to common breast-feeding challenges.
• Encouraging new moms to know their breast-feeding rights.
• Knowing where to find local resources, such as La Leche League groups and Women, Infants and Children programs.
• Providing lactation accommodations for working mothers.
Breast-feeding is one of the best investments to save lives and improve health. As such, Solano Public Health reminds all community members to make breast-feeding the easy choice for new mothers so they can help give their babies the best possible start in life.
Shai Davis is a health educator at Solano Public Health.