Benefits of breast-feeding

Contributing writerJuly 31, 2011 

The first week of August marks World Breastfeeding Week in more than 170 countries. Why celebrate breastfeeding? There is no substitute for breastmilk. If breastmilk could be bottled and sold, it would be labeled a “miracle cure.”

Breastmilk is a unique fluid of antibodies, hormones and nutrients that protects babies and moms from illness and disease.

Babies who are not breastfed have a 250 percent higher risk of respiratory infections and a 56 percent higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDs. Infants who don’t receive their mother’s milk also have more ear infections and diarrhea and are at higher risk of developing asthma, obesity, diabetes and childhood leukemia. Breast-fed infants also have higher IQs.

For mothers, breast-feeding reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and postpartum depression. It’s no wonder the American Academy of Pediatrics and every major health organization around the world recommends breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life and continued breast-feeding for a year or longer.

In Washington, more than 90 percent of women start out breast-feeding their babies. Unfortunately, by the time a baby reaches 6 months, only 21 percent of moms are still feeding their baby breast milk only.

World Breastfeeding Week provides an opportunity for our community to talk about ways to support families in Thurston County who breast-feed.

Most women can make plenty of milk for their babies and achieve their breast-feeding goals with accurate information, the encouragement of loved ones and workplace support.

If you or your partner is expecting a baby soon, learn more about breast-feeding. Talk with your health care provider about your questions and concerns, and with family or friends who have breast-fed their babies.

For more about breast-feeding, go to the Office on Women’s Health website at www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding.

Many women stop breast-feeding because they think they must to return to work. Not true. Most breast-feeding women go back to work and can continue to breast-feed. Discuss your plans to breast-feed with your employer before you go on maternity leave. The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private, non- bathroom place for nursing mothers to express breast milk during the workday for one year after a child’s birth. You and your employer can work together to develop a plan.

Supporting breast-feeding in the workplace offers a win-win opportunity for both employers and employees. Breast-fed infants are healthier, which mean their parents miss less work time, resulting in higher productivity. Breast-fed babies have lower health care costs, which means lower medical insurance claims for employers.

Employers who want to learn more about the new laws and about supporting working mothers who breast-feed can contact the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington at breastfeedingwa.org.

Supporting breast-feeding families improves long-term health, lowers health care costs and improves economic prosperity.

Now that is definitely something to celebrate.

Dr. Diana T. Yu is the health officer for Thurston and Mason counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501 or yud@co.thurston.wa.us.

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