Breastfeeding helps more than baby

July 29, 2012 

We celebrate World Breastfeeding Week in August, so now is the perfect time to discuss the many benefits of breastfeeding to children, mothers and society as a whole.

Breastfeeding saves lives and health care dollars by supporting lifelong good health for moms and babies, and most new moms understand the importance of breastfeeding. In our state, 89 percent of new moms start out breastfeeding. They know breastfeeding protects their baby from serious diseases such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, childhood leukemia and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). They are also aware that it benefits their own health by lowering their risk of Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and postpartum depression.

But of concern is that in Washington state, only 35 percent of babies still are breastfeeding at their first birthday, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all babies breastfeed that long.

Besides saving lives and health care dollars, breastfeeding is a natural renewable resource. It requires no factory production, doesn’t pollute the environment, and is ready in any emergency. Breastfeeding is not simply a lifestyle choice, it is a choice to live lightly upon the Earth while providing the best nutrition available and ensuring better health.

So how can we help breastfeeding moms? Are there ways to support new moms and babies to reach their goals?

In 2009, the state Legislature passed a law protecting breastfeeding mothers from discrimination while breastfeeding in public places. Moms feeding their babies in parks, public buildings and places of business cannot be told to leave, go to the restroom or cover up. Feeding a baby is part of being a mother. We can support breastfeeding in our community by upholding the law.

Supportive workplaces and colleagues also help women to continue breastfeeding, since many women must return to work shortly after their baby’s birth. The Department of Labor, as a part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, devised new regulations supporting breastfeeding moms who pump breast milk at work. Learn more at dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs73.htm.

Research shows workplace breastfeeding support improves return on investment for businesses. Businesses supporting breastfeeding report new moms return to work at higher rates after the birth of their baby, miss less work due to illness, and are more productive. Learn more about how businesses can benefit at womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/government-in-action/business-case-for-breastfeeding.

Recent research shows that if 90 percent of babies were given only breast milk for the first six months of their lives, nearly 1,000 infant deaths could be prevented and nearly $13 billion per year would be saved in the United States. In the end, supporting breastfeeding is something that benefits us all.

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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