For the first time in a decade, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has made several updates to its breastfeeding guidelines in an updated policy statement.
The AAP’s updated guidelines now align with the guidelines that have been in place by the World Health Organization (WHO) and many other international guidelines.
What are the new breastfeeding recommendations?
Among the most important updates is the recommendation that a child should be nursed for up to two years, lengthened from one year.
Mallory Ward, certified doula, childbirth educator and owner of Evidence Based Doula says it is important to note that breastfeeding does not just include nursing directly from the breast, but also feeding expressed breastmilk.
The AAP’s update was spurred by evidence that there are benefits of breastfeeding past 12 months for both mother and child.
“Breastfeeding not only provides optimal nutrition for most babies well beyond infancy, but also is linked to physical and mental health benefits for both mothers and babies,” says Ward.
For the mother, studies have also shown that breastfeeding longer than 12 months can reduce maternal type 2 diabetes, hypertension, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer rate.
For babies, human milk contains antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, immunoregulatory agents, and living leukocytes, all of which contribute to their developing immune system. Additionally, research has shown that breastfeeding is linked to decreased rates of lower respiratory tract infections, severe diarrhea, ear infections and obesity. Breastfeeding is associated with lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome, as well as other protective effects.
The AAP’s new policy recommendation also calls for more support for breastfeeding families from medical professionals and in the workplace. Specifically, the guidance recommends policies that address rights to breastfeed in public, and the right to breastfeed in childcare centers and lactation rooms in schools.
According to Ward, approximately 85 percent of mothers leave the hospital breastfeeding their newborns, but this rate drops drastically within the first month of life and continues to decline over the first 6 months.
“This tells us that the vast majority of people want to breastfeed their babies, but lack support or resources that allow them to continue the practice beyond the first few months — which generally aligns with the end of maternity leave and other social and logistical factors,” says Ward.
Ward says that without these laws, women are opened up to discrimination and sometimes even harassment.
Insurance coverage is another crucial policy area the AAP sees as necessary to supporting breastfeeding. According to the guidance, coverage should extend to pumps and lactation assistance.
Ward says these updated guidelines couldn’t have come at a better time.
“As breastfeeding rates continue to decline and the U.S. deals with an infant nutrition security crisis, calls for increasing awareness and systemic protections for breastfeeding are crucial,” she says.
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