The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)’s Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk policy statement opens up with “Breastfeeding and human milk are the normative standards for infant feeding and nutrition. Given the documented short- and long-term medical and neurodevelopment advantages of breastfeeding, infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice.”
Yes, public health begins with breastfeeding. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) recently released a new infographic titled “CDC’s Work to Support and Promote Breastfeeding in Hospitals, Worksites, and Communities.” This resource highlights the public health problem associated with low breastfeeding rates.
The AAP recommends infants be exclusively breastfed for six months and then breastfeed with the addition of complementary foods for an additional year or more. Both moms and babies “can benefit from breastfeeding, with infants gaining protection from various infections as well as diabetes, leukemia, and childhood obesity and mothers decreasing their risk for various cancers among other benefits,” according to the AAP.
The problem is, according to the CDC, only one in four infants is exclusively breastfed as recommended by AAP by the time they are six months old. Low rates of breastfeeding add more than $3 billion a year to medical costs for the mother and child in the United States. Thus breastfeeding is an investment in health, not just a lifestyle decision.
Infants who are breastfed have reduced risks of asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes, ear and respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Breastfeeding can help lower a mother’s risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
Dr. Ruth Petersen, the director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, stated in the new infographic that “breastfeeding provides unmatched health benefits for babies and mothers. It is the clinical gold standard for infant feeding and nutrition, with breast milk uniquely tailored to meet the health needs of a growing baby. We must do more to create supportive and safe environments for mothers who breastfeed.”
Mothers need support throughout their breastfeeding journey. More than 60% of mothers stop breastfeeding sooner than they planned. Certain factors make the difference in whether and how long babies are breastfed, including hospital practices, education and encouragement, policies or supports in the workplace, and access to community supports.
San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition (SDCBC) has been increasing breastfeeding support for mothers across the county. We promote best practices in health care settings by supporting the ten steps to successful breastfeeding, a global standard to promote breastfeeding in hospitals. We encourage obstetricians, pediatricians, and nurses to educate new moms about breastfeeding.
We support mothers at work and in their communities by providing working and breastfeeding resources, and recognizing breastfeeding-friendly workplaces. We are making a difference!
Women who choose to breastfeed face numerous barriers—and it’s not their personal problem, it’s a public health issue. Given the importance of breastfeeding on the health of mothers and children, it is critical that we take action to support breastfeeding.