This August marks the 13th annual National Breastfeeding Month! Every August, the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee hosts a public campaign inviting members, breastfeeding coalitions, partner organizations, and individuals to celebrate breastfeeding. The aim is for groups and individuals to participate in online action and discussion about the policies and changes needed to create an environment of support for babies and families.
According to the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), breastfeeding has many advantages. They advocate that breastfeeding without other foods or fluids for the first 4 to 6 months of life is the best start for all babies. It reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease. Breastfeeding can also significantly improve the health, development, and survival of infants and children and contribute to the improved well-being of mothers.
In addition, WABA maintains that breastfeeding promotes the growth and development of children. It provides not only the best possible nutrition but also protects children against diseases. Other benefits to breasting include helping mothers recover from childbirth more quickly. Breastfeeding also reduces fertility by delaying returned ovulation after birth, thus resulting in greater spacing between children. In addition, breastfeeding releases Prolactin and Oxytocin, two beneficial hormones. Prolactin promotes relaxation by producing a sensation of peace and nurturing, and Oxytocin enhances the sense of love and attachment of the mother toward her baby.
Some reason that breastmilk is also the most ecologically responsible food available is that it is produced and delivered without any pollution, creates no waste, and requires no packaging. Breastfeeding also saves money, and it is estimated that the cost of formula during the first year of baby’s life can easily total thousands of dollars. Globally, breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. However, contrary to World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, fewer than half of infants under six months old are exclusively breastfed. According to WHO, breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe clean and contains antibodies that help protect against many common childhood illnesses. Breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year and up to one-third during the second year of life. In addition, breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight, and less prone to diabetes later in life.
On a more local level, Williamsport has been designated as a Breastfeeding Family Friendly Community, of which there are only two in all of Pennsylvania. The Breastfeeding Family Friendly Community (BFFC) designation involves an extensive 10-step plan. It signifies that the community has made real strides to support all breastfeeding families to succeed in their infant feeding goals. Among the required steps for a community to receive the BFFC designation, the community’s elected or appointed leadership has a written statement supporting breastfeeding that is routinely communicated to all. In addition, the community as a whole provides a welcoming atmosphere for breastfeeding families. The designation also involves support by health leadership.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breastfeeding is an investment in health, not just lifestyle, and the CDC is working to promote breastfeeding. In addition, research has shown that 60% of mothers stop breastfeeding sooner than they planned and that certain factors make the difference in whether babies are breasted and for how long. Such factors include hospital practices, breastfeeding education, and support in the workplace and community. Progress is being made, however. The percentage of babies who start out breastfeeding increased from 73% in 2004 to 83% in 2020. In the United States, the percentage of births in hospitals with recommended practices that support breastfeeding increased from 3.8% in 2010 to 28.9% in 2021. For more information about breastfeeding, go to cdc.gov or usbreasfeeding.org.