Benefits of breastfeeding

In 2007, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on breastfeeding for infants born in the U.S. between 2000 and 2004.

Although some of the results are encouraging, others fell short of the goals set by the federal government in Healthy People 2010, the national health objectives the federal government hopes to achieve by the year 2010.

The good news is that most women breastfeed their babies initially. The CDC study found that nearly 74 percent of women who gave birth in 2004, initiated breastfeeding with their newborns.

That’s an increase of four percent from the results of 2000 and almost achieves the Healthy People national goal of 75 percent. At the same time, the survey showed that just 30.5 percent of three-month-old babies were receiving only breast milk, about half the rate targeted by Healthy People. At six months of age, the percent of babies still breastfeeding exclusively (11.3 percent) was significantly less than the federal goal of 25 percent.

Is breastfeeding clearly better for babies?

Yes! Breastfeeding is better and not just for the nutrition that it provides. When a mother nurses her baby, she transfers important disease fighting antibodies to her child. These antibodies are present in the mother to protect against diseases that are in the environment that her newborn now shares.

These antibodies help protect the baby against a variety of bacteria and viruses. Another recent federal study shows just how far that disease protection extends.

In April of 2007, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality issued a report on both the maternal and infant health benefits of breastfeeding. The report analyzed the data found in nearly 400 previous research studies on this relationship. The report found that a history of breastfeeding reduced a baby’s risk of several illnesses, including ear infections, gastrointestinal infections, severe lower respiratory infections, asthma, obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia and sudden infant death syndrome. The report also found that mothers who breastfeed their babies have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer and postpartum depression.

A common concern of new moms who are breastfeeding is whether or not their babies are getting enough nutrition from breast milk. Breast fed babies may weigh less than their formula fed counterparts but that doesn’t mean they are not as healthy. The opposite is true! As long as the mom continues to eat a healthy diet, the nursing baby will get all the nutrition he or she needs.

Breastfeeding, especially for working mothers, is not always an easy option, but the benefits are significant. A lactation consultant and breastfeeding support groups can be invaluable in assisting mothers who are breastfeeding. In addition to the health and nutritional benefits, breastfeeding is obviously more economical. It also offers significant psychological benefits. Few things can ease the stress that new mothers sometimes feel or help babies feel more secure than the quiet, calm times that mothers and babies enjoy together during breastfeeding.

Originally published in The University Doctors' MedicaLink - 08/07


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