Dr. Rachel Wood: Breastfeeding a sustainable solution

The first week in August is World Breastfeeding Week.
The first week in August is World Breastfeeding Week. Staff file, 2008

The first week of August is World Breastfeeding Week, during which people across the globe come together to celebrate breastfeeding.

Why celebrate breastfeeding you ask? This year’s theme — Breastfeeding: A Key to Sustainable Development — helps answer that question. The theme reminds us that breast milk is a secure source of nutrition, always ready and safe on a daily basis, and in any emergency or natural disaster. Breast milk is the ultimate sustainable resource. It requires no packaging or processing, is local and fresh, and costs the mother only a few extra calories a day.

Multiple scientific studies reveal that breastfeeding has numerous lifelong health benefits for mom and baby. Breastfeeding lowers a mother’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Breastfed babies have lower risk of serious health conditions such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, childhood leukemia and sudden infant death syndrome.

These benefits save health care dollars, which shouldn’t be a surprise because breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby.

In Washington state, more than 90 percent of women start breastfeeding their babies at birth. They know breastfeeding is best for their babies and themselves. Sadly, most women report not meeting their own breastfeeding goals and quit before they really wanted to. They say a lack of support and many challenges, including returning to work or school, make continuing to breastfeed harder.

Having a place to talk with others about breastfeeding challenges and successes helps women balance breastfeeding with the realities of life. We are very fortunate in Thurston County to have some excellent support options for moms and families.

The Family Support Center hosts a free Breastfeeding Drop-In Group from 10 a.m. to noon Thursdays. They discuss a variety of topics about parenting and breastfeeding. There’s no sign-up, membership or fees.

This group is a safe space for breastfeeding families to gather for support, to talk with others and to share information. A breastfeeding counselor with extensive breastfeeding knowledge and experience is always there to answer questions and make referrals. Children and babies are welcome.

The group is a partnership between the South Sound Breastfeeding Network, the Providence St. Peter Foundation and the Family Support Center.

Another excellent place for support is La Leche League International. LLL works locally through mother-to-mother breastfeeding support and encouragement. Leaders are specially trained on topics related to breastfeeding. LLL offers peer support at meetings, and through phone calls, email and text messaging. Support is free to everyone. Find them on the web at llli.org, or call or text 360-975-4826.

Supporting breastfeeding families is good for all of us. Breastfeeding saves health care dollars, protects the environment, and makes economic sense because breastfeeding families miss less work.

Want to support breastfeeding and World Breastfeeding Week activities in our area? Visit the Facebook Page for the South Sound Breastfeeding Network, or check out their website at southsoundbreastfeeding.org. Learn more about World Breastfeeding Week at worldbreastfeedingweek.org.

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.