Thank a Breastfeeding Mom: Why Every Ounce Counts
World Breastfeeding Week is here; time to celebrate the many benefits of breastfeeding and the importance to worldwide health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “if every child was breastfed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for their first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years, about 220 000 child lives would be saved every year.” That’s pretty powerful!
The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. However, around the world, less than 40% of infants less than 6 months are exclusively breastfed. While the majority of women start breastfeeding at the hospital, many quit due to lack of support from family or not feeling confident about her ability to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding provides many health benefits for both moms and babies:
- Breastfeeding is good for mom: is linked to a lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer; and postpartum depression. Mothers who breastfeed also miss less work because their infants are sick less often. Breastfeeding also helps moms get back into shape.
- Breastfeeding is good for babies: linked to lower risks of ear and respiratory infections, asthma, necrotizing enterocolitis (a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract of preterm infants.)
- Breastmilk is specifically made for baby; as he grows, breastmilk changes to meet his nutritional needs.
- Breastfeeding has been linked to improvements in brain and eye development.
- Breastfeeding saves money: an estimated $1,500 US a year!
Supporting Breastfeeding Moms: It’s Everyone’s Job
You don’t have to be a mom to be a breastfeeding advocate! Lack of support from family and employers is one large barrier to breastfeeding, so join in the cause. Help a breastfeeding mom today or tomorrow by:
- Giving moral support to a breastfeeding mom. Having a new baby can be tough. And because the “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” breastfeeding moms may think that breastfeeding is harder, more time consuming and not much different from formula feeding. Here’s how to help a daughter, friend, or sister:
- Give an encouraging word; it can go a long way in supporting a mom that is teetering on the edge.
- Offer to take an older sibling to the park or outside to play to give mom a break.
- Offer to pick needed items up at the store.
- Offer to help around the house.
- Be a good listener; new moms sometimes need to “vent.”
- Giving support at work: Another large barrier to breastfeeding is returning to work. Employers need to know that breastfeeding helps the bottom line: supporting breastfeeding helps in employee retention, in reducing sick leave and health insurance costs. Moms who want to continue nursing after being back at work need to take several breaks during the day to pump—and that means they need the support of co-workers. Ways to help nursing moms at work.
- Sometimes lack of support is silent—unfriendly glances, the silent treatment and other signs of resentment. Instead tell a breastfeeding mom that you think her choice is great!
- If you have a private office that can be used for pumping, try to make it available for a nursing mom when she needs to pump.
- Develop policies that support breastfeeding at your workplace.
- For resources on returning to work while breastfeeding
- The Business Case for Breastfeeding: educating employers on the value of breastfeeding
Another barrier to breastfeeding: the impression there is not enough milk. Unfortunately, many health professionals feed into this myth. Recently, clients have told me that their health care providers told them to supplement with formula “in case they don’t have enough milk.” This advice insures a mom won’t have enough milk! Breastfeeding works on a simple supply and demand basis. When babies nurse more often, moms make more milk. The opposite is also true, so by supplementing with formula (unless a mom pumps at the same time) the milk supply will decrease.
Sometimes, moms just need a bit of confidence to breastfeed successfully. So, thank a breastfeeding mom today—the world will be a healthier place because of her!
- World Health Organization: 10 Facts on Breastfeeding
- La Leche League: An international organization that supports breastfeeding
- Kellymom.com: Evidence based information by a certified Lactation Consultant
Bridget Swinney is a health communicator, award-winning author and well-regarded nutrition expert in the field of child nutrition, prenatal nutrition and family eating matters. A frequent speaker and media guest, she is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition. Her latest book is Eating Expectantly: Practical Advice for Healthy Eating Before, During and After Pregnancy. Her other two books are Baby Bites: Everything You Need to Know about Feeding Babies and Toddlers in One Handy Book; and Healthy Food for Healthy Kids; The Practical and Tasty Guide to Child Nutrition. She has a private practice in Texas. For more information, see Bridget’s website: www.healthyfoodzone.com.