Benefits for baby, mom, society
The American Academy of Pediatrics considers breast milk the gold standard for infant nutrition. Thus, the AAP recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months with continued breastfeeding for at least one year.
In Missouri, 77 percent of mothers begin breastfeeding in the hospital, less than 40 percent are still nursing at 6 months, and the majority—roughly 80 percent of Missouri mothers—quit nursing before the recommended one year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Because of the nutritional and developmental advantages breast milk provides infants, and the added health benefits for moms, breastfeeding has been endorsed by the majority of key health organizations, including the Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Breastfeeding is a complex interaction between a mother and her baby. Between the hormones, nutrients and time shared, there is a range of benefits to mothers and their children, including economic and environmental rewards.
Benefits for the Child, from the AAP
The risk of a lower respiratory infection that requires hospitalization is reduced by 72 percent in children that are exclusively breastfed for 4 months.
Ear infections are reduced by 50 percent in children exclusively breastfed for 3 months and reduced by 63 percent if exclusively breastfed for 6 months.
Breastfeeding exclusively for 3 months reduces Type 1 Diabetes by 30 percent and Type 2 Diabetes by 40 percent.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is reduced by 45 percent with any breastfeeding and 73 percent with exclusive breastfeeding.
Benefits for Mothers, from the AAP, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee
Research suggests that the more months spent nursing, the chances of a mother getting rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular disease or diabetes is lessened; the same is true for the development of some types of breast and ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
Many mothers that exclusively breastfeed enjoy a more rapid return to their pregnancy weight because of the calories burned by producing milk and quicker shrinking of the uterus.
Breastfeeding may have the benefit of a reduced incidence of postpartum depression.
There are also economic and societal benefits. The U.S. Breastfeeding Committee estimates that more than $2 billion a year is spent on breast milk substitutes or infant formula, which is about $1,200 per year for powdered formula per baby.
For infants that are formula-fed, an additional $1.3 billion will be spent on sick-child visits and prescriptions to treat the three most common illnesses: respiratory infections, ear infections and diarrhea. A study cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reported 2,033 excess office visits, 212 additional hospital days and 609 prescriptions in non-breastfed infants when compared to infants exclusively breastfed for 3 months. And an article in Pediatrics cited that the reduction in illness and severity of the illness meant less sick days or missed work for families to care for sick children.
Finally, the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee emphasizes that breastfeeding requires no packaging and doesn’t harm the environment.
When thinking about the benefits of breastfeeding, it’s important to remember that no product can duplicate these benefits, and that the benefits begin at birth and last for years even after breastfeeding has ended.
Becky Cave is a registered nurse, certified family nurse practitioner, and a long-time lactation consultant in the NICU at Mercy. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Greater Ozarks Regional Breastfeeding Coalition, which is dedicated to promoting, supporting and protecting breastfeeding in our community through education, outreach and advocacy. Visit the Greater Ozarks Regional Breastfeeding Coalition online at health.springfieldmo.gov.