The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is the feeding of babies and young children with milk from a woman’s breast. Health professionals recommend that breastfeeding begin within the first hour of a baby’s life and continue as often and as much as the baby wants. During the first few weeks of life babies may nurse roughly every two to three hours. The duration of a feeding is usually ten to fifteen minutes on each breast. Older children feed less often. Mothers may pump milk so that it can be used later when breastfeeding is not possible.
The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommend breastfeeding infants exclusively for about the first six months. This means that no other foods or drinks other than possibly vitamin D are typically given. After the introduction of foods at six months of age, recommendations include continued breastfeeding until at 12 months or older. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization also recommend exclusive breastfeeding for about the first 6 months, with continued breastfeeding along with introducing appropriate complementary foods for up to 2 years of age or longer. Mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed their children for at least 1 year. The longer an infant is breastfed, the greater the protection from certain illnesses and long-term diseases. The more months or years a woman breastfeeds (combined breastfeeding of all her children), the greater the benefits to her health as well.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be introduced to foods other than breast milk or infant formula when they are about 6 months old. To learn more about infant and toddler feeding, visit CDC’s Infant and Toddler Nutrition website. Globally about 38% of infants are only breastfed during their first six months of life. In the United States, about 75% of women begin breastfeeding and about 13% only breastfeed until the age of six months.
Breastfed babies have lower rates of ear infections, respiratory problems, asthma, Type 1 diabetes, obesity, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), gastrointestinal infections, and Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) for preterm infants. There is a strong connection between breastfeeding and a healthy immune system. Mothers pass antibodies to their baby through breast milk, giving breastfed babies a head start in fighting off infections. Breastfeeding may also improve cognitive development and decrease the risk of obesity in adulthood.
Benefits for the mother include less blood loss following delivery, better uterus shrinkage, weight loss, and less postpartum depression. Breastfeeding delays the return of menstruation and fertility, a phenomenon known as lactational amenorrhea. Long term benefits for the mother include decreased risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Breastfeeding is often less expensive than infant formula.
Breast milk provides the best nutrition for most infants, including premature and sick newborns. Only a few medications are contraindicated (not recommended) while breastfeeding. Health care providers should always weigh the risks and benefits when prescribing medications to breastfeeding mothers. Mothers who take certain recreational drugs and medications should not breastfeed. Learn more about contraindications to breastfeeding. Learn more about safe prescription medication use while breastfeeding.
Where can mothers find breastfeeding support and additional Information about breastfeeding?
Help mothers find lactation support through the following resources:
- International Lactation Consultant Association (IBCLCs)
- United States Lactation Consultant Association (IBCLCs)
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) clinics
- La Leche League
- LCDHD provides a Regional Breastfeeding Coordinator for the LCDHD region and can assist you with any breastfeeding questions, concerns, or issues you may have. Heather can also assist any clinic or business with breastfeeding promotion and education. Please call the LCDHD at 1(800) 928-4416 for more information and ask for Heather Capps.
- The WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program is a free program offered through the Lake Cumberland District Health Department. It provides one on one support to pregnant and breastfeeding WIC mothers. A peer counselor will contact you during your pregnancy and assist you with any questions, or concerns you may have with breastfeeding. This is done through mailings, phone calls, and periodic visits. After delivery, the peer counselor will continue to provide support throughout your breastfeeding experience. Please call the LCDHD at 1(800) 928-4416 for more information and ask for Heather Capps.
How can a mother continue to provide breast milk to her infant after returning to work or school?
Being prepared for returning to work or school can help a mother ease the transition and continue to breastfeed after her maternity leave is over. The Office on Women’s Health has information for making this transition easier. When a mother is away from her infant, she can pump or hand express her breast milk so that her infant can drink breast milk from a bottle. Mothers can visit CDC’s Infant and Toddler Nutrition website to learn more about pumping breast milk. Mothers who are expressing their breast milk should visit the CDC’s Proper Storage and Preparation of Breast Milk website to learn how to prepare and store breast milk safely for her infant.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires employers to support breastfeeding mothers to express breast milk for 1 year after each child’s birth by providing mothers with reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom space to express their breast milk. For more information about the types of employees and employers to which the requirements apply, refer to the United States Department of Labor’s Frequently Asked Questions.
On a separate note, it is important to point out that Kentucky is one of the unhealthiest states in our nation; but, a few healthy lifestyle choices could change this. First, eating normally proportioned helpings of nutritious foods including at least five fruits and vegetables a day can lower weight and reduce heart disease and diabetes. Second, exercising about 30 minutes per day can lower blood pressure. Third, avoiding the use of tobacco products can reduce several types of cancer. Finally, making sure you get your needed preventive screenings can detect diseases early and greatly increase your chances for a positive health outcomes, while receiving your recommended vaccinations can prevent acquiring disease in the first place.
Press Release: Week-34-Breastfeeding