Supporting Breastfeeding for the Optimal Health of Infants and Mothers
August 1st – August 7th is World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated throughout the world to bring awareness of the importance of breastfeeding and breastfeeding support for women and children. This year marks the 25th anniversary of World Breastfeeding Week, with celebrations internationally and locally in Vallejo. There is significant evidence to the benefits of breastfeeding, not just for the infant, but lifelong benefits for both mother and child.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastmilk contains thousands of various components including living cells and antibodies that fight to protect a child’s immune system and set the stage for healthy growth and development.
- Living cells and antibodies in breastmilk protect the infant from illness. When a mother is exposed to bacteria or a cold, her body begins to develop antibodies to the illness. These antibodies (along with many others) are passed directly through the breast milk to provide protection for the child.
- Breastfeeding protects against ear infections, upper and lower respiratory infections, asthma, and the development of allergies.
- Breastfeeding lowers the risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS.
In addition to the benefits of breastfeeding for the child, there are also a host of benefits to mothers.
- Breastfeeding after the birth of a child contracts the uterus, helping the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and control post-partum bleeding.
- Breastfeeding can lower the risk of both breast cancer and diabetes, especially among women who breastfeed for at least a year.
- Breastfeeding burns extra calories, helping some women return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster.
There are other practical benefits too.
- Breastfeeding is free. There is no need to purchase expensive formula.
- Breastmilk is ready anytime, anywhere. You do not need to plan and prepare before your baby is ready to eat.
- There are no bottles or rubber nipples to clean.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months, breastfeeding for at least 12 months and continuing thereafter as long as mother and baby would like. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 80% of infants were breastfed in 2013 across the United States. In California, 90.2% of infants breastfed, with 51% exclusively breastfed until 3 months and just over 24% exclusively breastfed until 6 months. This data means while many women are trying to breastfeed many more are not successful at exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months. What can we do as a community to support breastfeeding?
We Can All Be Involved: Breastfeeding Promotion and Support
This year the theme of World Breastfeeding Week is “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together.” At the international level, that means bringing together a diverse set of activists, decision-makers, health experts, and various partners to identify barriers and successes in promoting and supporting breastfeeding worldwide. Locally, it means that we all need to work together to promote and support breastfeeding for the health and wellness of infants, babies, mothers, and families. Whether you are a new or expecting parent, support person for a new family, childcare provider, or employer, you can help support breastfeeding. Offer to bring a new mother a meal or help with chores around the house; this way the mother can focus on her baby.
Look into local resources, such as the Solano County Breastfeeding Coalition, which has resources and contact information for support. In addition, Solano County Hospitals, Solano County Health and Social Services, local WIC offices, pediatric clinics, La Leche League, or lactation consultants in the area can provide support.
By Carly Strouse, DrPH, MPH
Assistant Professor, Community Health
Touro University California Public Health Program