In the park, at the mall, dressed in Army fatigues -- breastfeeding moms can create a stir and provoke spirited discussions as Americans wrestle with whether breastfeeding a baby should be a private or public activity.
Regardless of differing opinions about where breastfeeding is appropriate, medical evidence proves that breastfeeding offers significant health benefits for both babies and mothers. In addition to health benefits, breastfeeding presents financial benefits as well; the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that breastfeeding saves families an average of $800 per year on formula costs.
"Almost 75 percent of babies in America begin their lives as a breastfed baby," says Darlene Hammond, Director of The Baby Place at Pekin Hospital. "However, by the time they're six months old, only about 15 percent are still receiving nourishment exclusively from their mothers. Pekin Hospital is currently one of two Baby-Friendly birth facilities in the state of Illinois, so we understand the health benefits of breastfeeding and work hard to encourage educate local mothers by offering a variety of breastfeeding classes and resources."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California residents have the highest breastfeeding rate, with 25.7 percent exclusively breastfeeding their six-month-old babies. West Virginia has the lowest rate of babies being breastfed, at 5.6 percent.
While commercially produced formula is considered a nutritious alternative to breastfeeding, medical research shows that mother's milk lowers a baby's risk of infections and illnesses, including childhood leukemia, diarrhea, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes and pneumonia. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to become obese and develop asthma. The practice even seems to provide health benefits for mothers, including a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. The health benefits accrue to women who breastfed for a minimum of six months and improve the longer breastfeeding continues.
"Breastfeeding’s economic benefits are substantial," says Donna Wood, Director of Clinical Operations, Quorum Health Resources. "A study in the journal Pediatrics estimated that if mothers breastfed their babies for six months it would save the nation $13 billion per year in healthcare costs related to disease.”Doctors recommend breastfeeding for one to two years and medical experts suggest that babies should have no other food source than human milk for the first six months of life. The month of August marks the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s (USBC’s) National Breastfeeding Month.
The USBC says that these steps can help improve breastfeeding rates:
· Communities should provide programs to provide women with access to breastfeeding support and counseling from peer mothers
· Hospitals and other healthcare providers should offer education and counseling on breastfeeding
· Healthcare providers should be properly trained to care for breastfeeding mothers and babies and should provide education to pregnant patients
In an age when the choices for baby food fill the grocery store shelves, breastfeeding advocates say mother's milk is more convenient, makes babies and mothers healthier and costs nothing. As education and support for breastfeeding becomes more widely available, more women and infants may be able to capture these health and economic benefits.
To learn about breastfeeding classes offered by Pekin Hospital, please visit www.pekinhospital.org or call (309) 353-0480.
To learn more about the health benefits of breastfeeding, please visit www.nrdc.org/breastmilk/benefits.asp.
This article provided courtesy of Pekin Hospital and Quorum Health Resources (QHR).