National Breastfeeding Awareness Month: Empowering Health Through the Benefits of Breastfeeding
In case you haven’t heard, August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and we’re very excited about it here at Once Community Health. The first week of August is an even bigger event, reaching an even larger audience—World Breastfeeding Week— and you better believe we will be celebrating it in The Gorge! To join in the celebration, your One Community Health certified community health workers will be setting up displays in each clinic to share breastfeeding facts, tips and tricks, plus fun and informative diagrams/models/figures. These team members will be available at times to answer questions on site, too!
While breastfeeding is as old as humanity, National Breastfeeding Awareness Month has only been official since August 6, 2011, deemed so by the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC). Today’s lifestyles and societal pressures on mothers can make breastfeeding out to be an even more daunting task than it already is. Therefore, the goal of this annual campaign is to empower women to commit to breastfeeding in the face of these challenges.
Breastfeeding has been scientifically and repeatedly proven to benefit both mom and baby. Also, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, the United States would save about $13 billion per year in medical costs if 90 percent of U.S. families breastfed their newborns for at least six months. So the benefits are both financially and physically proven! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states: "Breastfeeding ensures the best possible health and best developmental and psychosocial outcomes for the infant."
Here are some reasons that your healthcare provider will tell you breast milk is the best milk.
Benefits for Mom:
• Breastfeeding moms get more sleep. Breastfeeding moms get an extra 45 minutes of sleep per night, according to a study in the Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing.
• Release of “good” hormones. Many mothers feel fulfillment and joy from the physical and emotional communion they experience with their child while nursing. These feelings are augmented by the release of hormones, such as:
- Prolactin: produces a peaceful, nurturing sensation that allows moms to relax and focus on her child.
- Oxytocin: promotes a strong sense of love and attachment between the mom and baby.
• Better odds for a faster, easier recovery. The hormone oxytocin, released during breastfeeding, acts to return the uterus to its regular size more quickly and can reduce postpartum bleeding.
• Stronger bones. Women who breastfeed have a lower risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis.
• Reduces cancer risk. Studies show women who have breastfed experience reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer later in life.
• Less risk for developing various chronic diseases. Studies have found breastfeeding may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
• Free birth control. Exclusive breastfeeding usually delays the return of the mother’s menstrual period, which can help extend the time between pregnancies. (Note: Exclusive breastfeeding can provide a natural form of contraception if the mother’s menses have not returned, the baby is breastfeeding day and night, and the baby is less than six months old.)
• Aids in postpartum weight loss. Mothers burn up to 500 extra calories per day while breastfeeding. When pregnant, biology kicks in and builds up a reserve of weight beneficial to both mom and baby. It then helps in losing that weight post-partum by breastfeeding.
• Less time off work. A baby sick less often = fewer sick days for mom.
• It’s cheap! According to La Leche League International, formula costs range anywhere from $134 to $491 per month. That's $1,608 to $5,892 in one year!
• There's nothing easier. Simply pull up your shirt and nurse. Breast milk is always available and always at the right temperature.
Benefits for Baby:
• Lower SIDS risk. Breastfeeding lowers a baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome by about half.
• Higher IQ. Various researchers have found a connection between breastfeeding and cognitive development. In a study of more than 17,000 infants followed from birth to 6 1/2 years, researchers concluded from IQ scores and other intelligence tests that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding significantly improves cognitive development.
• A healthier baby overall. Numerous studies from around the world have shown that stomach viruses, lower respiratory illnesses, ear infections and meningitis occur less often in breastfed babies and are less severe when they do happen. Gastrointestinal infections like diarrhea—which can be devastating, especially in developing countries—are also less common. Exclusive breastfeeding (meaning no solid food, formula or water) for at least six months seems to offer the most protection. One large study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences showed that children who are breastfed have a 20 percent lower risk of dying between the ages of 28 days and 1 year than children who weren't breastfed, with longer breastfeeding associated with lower risk.
• Long-term protection, too. Breastfeed babies have a reduced his risk of developing chronic conditions, such as type I diabetes, celiac disease, Crohn's disease and certain childhood cancers.
• Reduces pediatric obesity. An analysis of 17 studies published in the American Journal of Epidemiology shows that breastfeeding reduces a child's risk of becoming overweight as a teen or adult. The strongest effect is in children who were exclusively breastfed. The longer the baby was breastfed, the stronger the link.
• A custom-made supply. Formula can’t change its constitution, but your breast milk morphs to meet your baby's changing needs. Your breast milk is specifically tailored to your baby. Your body responds to pathogens (virus and bacteria) that are in your body and makes secretory IgA that's specific to those pathogens, creating protection for your baby based on whatever you're exposed to.
• Protect your baby from developing allergies. Babies who are fed a formula based on cow's milk or soy tend to have more allergic reactions than breastfed babies. Scientists think that immune factors such as secretory IgA (only available in breast milk) help prevent allergic reactions to food by providing a layer of protection to a baby's intestinal tract.
• More effective vaccines. Research shows that breastfed babies have a better antibody response to vaccines than formula-fed babies.
Now, if you’re reading this thinking that breastfeeding only has to do with mom and baby, think again! Breastfeeding is both a family and a community affair. Even with all the above benefits, breastfeeding is not without its challenges. Partners can play a vital role as a support system for mom.
Here are some tips for partners and other family members of a mom who is breastfeeding:
• Get educated. The more you know about breastfeeding, the more you can help mom in the tense moments. Read about it or attend classes with her.
• Lend a hand when possible. See if you can help with other tasks or get your partner anything to help with her breastfeeding experience. As mom is breastfeeding about two hours per day, even just a small diaper change break so mom can rest or use the restroom may feel like the world to her.
• Mirror your partner's sleep schedule. Waking up with mom on her schedule may seem the most challenging, but you can then help by bringing the baby to mom’s side so she can breastfeed or prop a pillow behind her back.
• Use encouraging words! Tell mom she can do it! Remind her she is providing your child with the best nutrition available even when she may feel discouraged.
As a community, take these tips and spread the love. Oregon law ORS §109.001 gives women the right to breastfeed their child in a public place. Unfortunately, this protection is needed since women breastfeeding in a public place may be asked to stop, leave or cover up, causing embarrassment and stigmatization. Embarrassment remains a barrier to breastfeeding. Help us remove this barrier!
Note! There may be some medical situations in which your healthcare provider recommends you not breastfeed. In these situations, you are still choosing to nourish your baby in a way that is best for both of you, whether it be with formula or in a different manner. You are no less of a mother or woman for taking this route.
Caitlyn Witte, BSCN
Community Health Worker, One Community Health