You may be thinking, “To breastfeed or not to breastfeed…that is the question.” But because the health benefits for your child so far outweigh the challenges, there should be no question at all. Breastfeeding is the way to go.
We have all been taught that there are health benefits to breastfeeding and that list continues to grow. There is new evidence to suggest that, not only are breastfed babies protected from infections early in life, but also from diseases later in life.
Lifelong health benefits
Breastfeeding has been proven to reduce respiratory and gastrointestinal/diarrheal illnesses in young infants, as well as the development of diabetes, allergies, eczema and ear infections. It also can reduce the more serious risks of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and obesity. Studies also show that infants who are breastfed for six months or more saw a reduction in cancers later in life.
Yet with all of this, the United States has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the developed world. 71 percent of U.S. women initiate breastfeeding, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that only 16 percent exclusively breastfeed for six months, with only 47 percent including some breast milk in the diet at six months. In Sweden, 98 percent of women initiate breastfeeding with up to 72 percent still breastfeeding at six months.
The good news for the Unites States is that these numbers are on the rise.
In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a new statement, reaffirming the recommendations of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, followed by continued breastfeeding for one year or longer. They call this a public health issue, not a lifestyle choice.
In addition to the numerous health benefits, breastfeeding is far less expensive and is good for the environment producing less trash and plastic waste. And with healthier children, there are less missed days of work for parents.
Challenges and support
Breastfeeding is not without its challenges. It is only with strong support from the pediatrician and from one’s employer that success in breastfeeding can be achieved.
More often than not, there are issues with breastfeeding initially. It can take a lot of work at the beginning addressing all kinds of common issues – flat nipples, delayed milk production, low milk production, over milk production, weight loss in the baby and jaundice.
Challenges also can occur when you are well into your routine, including mastitis or blocked milk ducts for the mother or thrush, an infection in the mouth for the baby. All of these things are easily treated, but need to be recognized early. This is why it is important to have a supportive pediatrician who can monitor you and your baby and send you to a certified lactation consultant when issues do not resolve on their own. In some cases, even with every effort, breastfeeding is not always successful. A parent should never feel guilty about that.
Returning to work
Once the breastfeeding is going well, many women need to return to work. Often when women return to work, the milk supply may tend to drop. It may be necessary to use a hospital grade pump to maintain milk supply. Without a supportive work place, and a time and space for pumping, breastfeeding can become more challenging. With a little planning prior to returning to work, successful breastfeeding can be maintained.
With a little time and effort, breastfeeding can be very rewarding. The benefits to an infant’s growth, development, immunity, and health far outweigh the challenges. Success can be achieved with the help and support of one’s pediatrician, often creating a bond that will last for many years to come.