While remaining moderately popular and the most cost-efficient and nutritious way to feed a growing infant, breastfeeding still struggles with popularity across some groups. Due to a lack of social support and opportunity, some mothers do not have the desire or ability to breastfeed their infant sons and daughters—but the research shows that both mother and baby would be better off in the end if they did. The decision to breastfeed is influenced by a variety of factors– medical, social and socioeconomic. While help from lactation consultants can assist a new mother with breastfeeding, sometimes milk just doesn’t produce. Social and socioeconomic pressures to return to work as soon as possible after giving birth may make it difficult for new moms to keep up with a baby’s breastfeeding needs on the tight feeding schedule so many infants require. According to the CDC, only 25% of infants are exclusively breastfed by the time they reach six months of age. However, the benefits of breastfeeding reach far beyond infancy.
The breastfed baby has reduced risks of several types of conditions and diseases, including SIDS, ear infections, type 2 diabetes, asthma, childhood obesity, childhood leukemia, respiratory infections and eczema. The first milk an infant receives is called the colostrum, nutrient-dense, thick first milk that occurs just after birth and during pregnancy. It includes antibodies to help protect a baby from infections. It is often called “liquid gold” because of its yellow color and multiple benefits that it provides an infant. This milk changes as a baby grows to suit the needs of an infant’s body.
The breastfeeding mother can lower her risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer and breast cancer simply by feeding her baby. Breastfeeding may also make it easier for a mother to lose weight gained in pregnancy—in fact, women who breastfeed exclusively for more than three months postpartum tend to lose more weight than those who formula feed. Breastfeeding burns calories, and those mothers who choose to breastfeed for longer than six months may continue to lose weight while doing so. Breast milk alone is sufficient to support optimal growth for infants for the first six months of life. Water, juice and other foods are unnecessary for infants during the first six months, as breast milk contains all the hydration and nutrition they require. Breastmilk protects an infant from respiratory illnesses and diarrhea, as well as a potentially unclean water supply.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed for a minimum of six months, but ideally 12 months, or as long as mother and baby desire. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for up to two years of age. Breastfeeding saves money—not only in formula costs, but healthcare costs for mother and baby throughout their lifetime. Mothers who breastfeed may take less time off work to care for sick children, increasing their productivity.
Compared to formula feeding, breastfeeding is the easier and better economic choice. Formula can be harder to digest than breastmilk for some infants, and an infant’s stomach may have a hard time processing formula mixtures, which are powders made with cow’s milk and fortified with nutrients and then added to water. Breastmilk changes as infants age, adapting to the changing needs of a growing baby. While babies will approximately consume two to three ounces of breastmilk each time they eat, the nutrient makeup of the milk will change to suit them, while formula-fed babies will need to eat more formula to meet their nutritional needs.
Family and friends can play a large role in breastfeeding success. Social support for breastfeeding mothers is essential, as having a partner who understands the benefits of breastfeeding makes it more likely that mothers will be able to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months. While only moms can actually breastfeed a baby, partners can provide support by bringing the baby to the mother, changing diapers after a feeding, or participating in skin-to-skin time with the baby after a feeding. Learning early hunger cues from an infant is also helpful as it prevents the baby from becoming too fussy to latch.
Breastfeeding is a convenient and natural way to feed an infant, but can sometimes come with its own set of challenges. Latching and milk production issues are the most common problems that breastfeeding mothers face. Larger issues like breast blockages and infections must be treated by a physician and can stop the production of breast milk.
Support from physicians, peers and employers is essential to the success of breastfeeding and in turn, the health of infant children everywhere. The benefits of breastfeeding are boundless and need only the support and encouragement of society to help raise a strong and healthy new generation.
Dr. Amber Dobyne
OakBend Medical Group
Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.