The health benefits of breastfeeding: Breastfeeding improves health outcomes, protects against obesity and reduces health care costs across the lifespan. Breast milk is designed by the body to provide the nutrients a baby needs based on age and feeding habits. It’s easier to digest and scientific data shows breastfeeding provides optimal nutritional, immunological and emotional nurturing for growth and development of infants and children. Breast milk protects against a myriad of infections and conditions that contribute to infant mortality and morbidity, including childhood obesity. For moms, it may help them return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the following benefits for moms and babies:
Benefits for Infants
Infants who are breastfed have reduced risks of:
- Type 1 diabetes.
- Severe lower respiratory disease.
- Acute otitis media (ear infections).
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Gastrointestinal infections (diarrhea/vomiting).
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) for preterm infants.
Benefits for Mothers
Breastfeeding can help lower a mother’s risk of:
- High blood pressure.
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Ovarian cancer.
- Breast cancer.
The economic benefits of breastfeeding: In the United States, the benefits of breastfeeding could translate into millions of dollars of health system savings through decreased hospitalizations and pediatric clinic visits. For diarrhea alone, breastfeeding could reduce the approximately 200,000 U.S. children who are hospitalized each year at a cost of more than half a billion dollars (www.babyfriendlyusa.org).
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding through the first year of life and beyond is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and many other health organizations.
Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI)
The BFHI is a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to encourage and recognize hospitals and maternity facilities that offer optimal care for breastfeeding mothers and babies. The BFHI promotes, protects and supports breastfeeding through “the 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding for Hospitals”:
- 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 half an hour of birth.
- Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation even if they should be separated from their infants.
- Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
- Practice rooming-in – that is, allow mothers and infants to remain together – 24 hours a day.
- Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
- Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.
- Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.
The Naval Hospital at NAS Jax and Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside, Southside and Clay locations are the only Baby Friendly Hospitals in Northeast Florida.
Mastering the art of breastfeeding sometimes requires outside support. You may have latch issues, engorgement or concerns about your milk output. Here are some resources to help you successfully breastfeed:
Your delivering hospital: Lactation consultants typically are available upon request at the hospital where you delivered your baby. They can provide helpful tips and assist with any problems. Ask your doctor or hospital for more information.
La Leche League: The mission of La Leche League International is to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information and education and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and the mother. The La Leche League also has an online support group.
Getting Started with Breastfeeding: Helpful tips and videos from Stanford University.
WIC: Your local WIC office can provide counseling, breastfeeding educational materials, follow-up support through peer counselors and pumping supplies. See if you are eligible based on the income guidelines. Contact your local health department for more information.
National Breastfeeding Helpline: Call 1.800.994.9662 for phone assistance from trained breastfeeding peer counselors, who can can help answer common breastfeeding questions. This service is available in both English and Spanish.
LactMed: A database of drugs and medications that breastfeeding mothers may be exposed to. Peer reviewed and referenced, it also includes alternate medications to consider.
WhatToExpect.com: The internet companion to the popular book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” includes an online community and free online tools and mobile apps. The site includes a breastfeeding guide and nutritional information.
Kelly Mom: Run by an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), this site features evidence-based information on breastfeeding.
Consumer Affairs: An extensive list of reviews on each breast pump with comparisons between brands to help moms decide on the right fit for their needs.