By: Debra Bogen, MD, FAAP, FABM
This week is World Breastfeeding Week and August is National Breastfeeding Month! Most people know that breastmilk feeding is “good for babies”, but breastfeeding is far more than nutrition for infants. Breastfeeding is ESSENTIAL for maternal health, infant health and development, and society. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies be fed ONLY breastmilk for the first 5 to 6 months of life and that babies continue to breastfeed until at least the baby’s first birthday while also receiving food.
Can you name at least three benefits of breastfeeding for women, infants, and society?
Breastfeeding and Women’s Health: Compared to women who formula feed, women who breastfeed:
- are less likely to develop adult onset diabetes
- are less likely to develop high blood pressure
- have lower rates of breast cancer and ovarian cancer
- have differences in their brain activity when they see and hear their own baby
Breastfeeding and Infant Health: Compared to infants who are formula fed, babies who are breastfed:
- have fewer ear infections, less severe diarrhea, and fewer urinary tract infections
- are less likely to develop asthma, eczema, and allergies
- are less likely to be hospitalized for lung infections
- score higher on IQ testing, even after taking into consideration mother’s education and IQ
- are less likely to die of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)
Breastfeeding and Society:
- Breastmilk is free of charge; formula costs $1,500 to $2,000 per year
- Breastmilk is never recalled; formula recalls happen more often than you would think – check out the FDA website for details
- Breastmilk is environmentally “green”; there are no manufacturing, packaging or shipping costs
- Breastfeeding saves the health care system huge amounts of money in reduced sick visits and hospital visits
- Mothers who breastfeed miss fewer days at work
In 2011, 79 percent of women in the Unites States started to breastfeed, but 20 percent gave formula by 2 days of age, and by 6 months, 30 percent of women who had started to breastfeed stopped all breastfeeding. In Pennsylvania, only 72.9 percent of women fed their baby any breastmilk.
Women supplement with infant formula or stop breastfeeding for many reasons – but our goal is to support women to fully breastfeed according to national recommendations.
Breastfeeding is natural and essential for health but it is NOT always easy. The first few weeks can be particularly challenging and is a time that women need encouragement and support. Women who receive support from family, friends, medical professionals, and society are more likely to have a successful and rewarding breastfeeding experience. We are fortunate to have many resources available to help women breastfeed both in our community and nationally (see end of blog for list of resources).
Breastfeeding and skin-to-skin care that starts in the delivery room sets the stage for breastfeeding success. In another blog post, I’ll share tips about getting breastfeeding started – but for now I will refer you to the Office of Women’s Health website.
Returning to work is one reason many women give for stopping breastfeeding or introducing formula. However, we are in a new era of breastfeeding support – women have protection under the law to breastfeed.
In 2007, PA Senate Bill 34 was passed; it allows mothers to breastfeed in public without penalty and states that breastfeeding may not be considered a nuisance, obscenity or indecent exposure under this law.
In 2010, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was modified. The Act indicates that employers are required to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” Employers are also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” Sadly – some workers are not covered so read the details.
I have helped and supported countless women to breastfeed over the past 15 years. An important lesson I have learned is that breastfeeding should not cause breast pain if it is done properly – pain is the body’s way of saying there is something wrong. Therefore, if you have breast/nipple pain while breastfeeding, please get professional help from a board certified lactation consultant or other health care professional trained in breastfeeding right away! It is far easier to resolve breastfeeding problems when they first start then after they have festered for days, so don’t hesitate to get help with breastfeeding.
At Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC’s Primary Care Center in Oakland, we have an experienced certified lactation consultant on-site, Angie Kirkwood, BSN, as well as experts in breastfeeding to help. For more information, please call 412-692-6000.
The Pennsylvania Health Department maintains a list of Pennsylvania breastfeeding resources by county.
Breastfeeding Help Lines:
- PA WIC Breastfeeding Warm Line: 1-855-427-5666, available Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- Allegheny County Breastfeeding Help Line 412-687-2243 (Staffed by IBCLCs – 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily)
- PA Department of Health Healthy Baby Line: 800-986-BABY or 800-986-2229
- National Women’s Health Information Center: 800-994-9662