Breastfeeding, considered the “gold standard” in infant nutrition, will be the focus of a weeklong campaign, Aug. 1-7. During World Breastfeeding Week, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and breastfeeding advocates in more than 175 countries will be celebrating the theme - Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal - for Life!
"In the past, breastfeeding was considered a lifestyle choice. But, as we’ve gained more knowledge over the years, we now realize that breastfeeding is medically important for the adequate health of an infant at birth and beyond," said Kimberly Congden, manager of Lactation Services and Parent Education at Baystate Medical Center.
Benefits of breastfeeding
Human milk is uniquely suited for infants. It is easy to digest and contains many components that babies need in the early months of life.
Resistance factors in breast milk also protect infants from the risk of diarrhea, ear infections, and respiratory and other illnesses such as diabetes. Children who have been breastfed have less risk of becoming overweight or obese, even as adults, and breastfeeding has been shown to lower the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Research has shown that children who had been breastfed also had slightly higher IQs.
"Early and exclusive breastfeeding improves newborn care and reduces neonatal mortality, which contributes to the majority of infant deaths. Breastfeeding has been shown repeatedly to be the single most effective way to prevent infant death. It plays a major role in children’s health and development, and significantly benefits the health of mothers," WABA chairperson Dr. Felicity Savage said.
According to Congden, the benefits to moms are many, chief of which is promoting a bonding experience with their infant and decreasing a new mother’s stress. “Breastfeeding moms also have a lower risk of developing postpartum depression, as well as breast, uterine and ovary cancers later in life,” said Congden.
"There’s no coercion to breastfeed. But, we think it’s important for new moms to know that if long-term breastfeeding isn’t their goal, that their baby would at least benefit by receiving colostrum for the first three days after birth," Congden said.
Referred to as "liquid gold," colostrum is the thick yellow breast milk that a mother makes during pregnancy and just after birth. It is very rich in nutrients and antibodies to protect the baby.
"We consider colostrum as a baby’s first immunization, it boosts the immune system and protects the gut from so many infections," Congden said.
There are many breastfeeding benefits to the community and environment.
"Because breastfeeding benefits a baby’s health, they are sick less and require fewer visits to the doctor, saving costs on medical care. For the environment, there is less trash and plastic waste that comes along with formula, bottles and other supplies," Congden said.
How long to breastfeed
While progress has been made over the years in increasing the proportion of infants who are breastfed in the United States, there is still a way to go before celebrating.
According to the 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percent of U.S. infants who begin breastfeeding is high at 77%.
There is concern that infants are not breastfed for as long as recommended, but the National Immunization Survey data show continued progress has been made over the past ten years. Of infants born in 2010, 49% were breastfed at 6 months, up from 35% in 2000. The breastfeeding rate at 12 months increased from 16% to 27% during that same time period.
The “gold standard” in infant nutrition is six months of exclusive mother’s milk. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), breast milk alone is sufficient to support optimal growth and development for approximately the first 6 months after birth.
For these very young infants, the AAP says that water, juice, and other foods are generally unnecessary. Even when babies enjoy discovering new tastes and textures, solid foods should not replace breastfeeding, but merely complement breast milk as the infant's main source of nutrients throughout the first year.
Beyond one year, as the variety and volume of solid foods gradually increase, breast milk remains an ideal addition to the child's diet.
The AAP recommends that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mother and baby desire. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.
Congden said most of the work of Baystate’s lactation consultants in promoting the benefits of breastfeeding is carried out before a mother even arrives at the Wesson Women and Infants’ Unit at Baystate to give birth.
To help prepare for childbirth and the possibility of breastfeeding, Baystate’s Parent Education Department offers support classes prior to birth. At the Prenatal Breastfeeding Class – Part I, women receive information on breastfeeding, including helpful tips and techniques, while Part 2 is offered after baby is born and provides continued support, including information about returning to work, pumping techniques, and storage of breast milk.
There is also a special Breastfeeding for Multiples class which addresses the needs of women who are planning on breastfeeding twins or more.
Baystate Children’s Hospital also holds a free gathering for breastfeeding moms and their babies four times a month. Facilitated by an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, the gatherings are designed to provide breastfeeding support and to answer any questions.
Mothers are encouraged to share their own challenges and solutions with others in the group and offer mother-to-mother support during open discussion.
Groups meet on the first and third Wednesday of each month from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. and the second and fourth Saturdays from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Baystate Medical Center’s Lactation Team was awarded the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBCLC) Care Award. The Lactation Team holds the prestigious IBCLC certification and provides services five to seven days a week for breastfeeding families. The award recognizes the program providing breastfeeding training for medical staff caring for new families and for activities that help protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.