SILVER SPRING, MD, September, 15, 2011 – Whether to breastfeed or use formula is a choice every mother must make for her child. There are arguments for both, however a growing number of women are returning to the breast as their primary food source for their infants.
During World War II, while more women entered the workforce for the first time, and then in the decades following it, many mothers turned to formula feeding as it was touted to be just as good - if not better - than breast milk. The percentage of women breastfeeding hit an all time low in the United States in the 1970s.
Since then, medical research has shown the inherent benefits of breastfeeding over formula and the numbers are on the rise.
Every year since 2007 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put out The Breastfeeding Report Card. The 2011 report states that 74.2% of new mothers had breastfed their infant for some period of time, although only 44.3% made it to 6 months, and 23.8% made it a full year. These numbers include exclusive and partial breastfeeding strategies.
Today, new mothers are not faced with having to choose between staying home to breastfeed their infant or having a career. Breastfeeding is a more attainable goal due to increased public support and understanding, and the availability of breast pumps. Breastfeeding mothers’ rights are now protected in the workplace under law in some states, requiring employers to provide a place for women to use a breast-pump. For mothers who have a medical reason that they cannot breastfeed their baby, there are milk banks that provide breast milk donated by others. This milk has been processed and package, so there is no risk to your infant.
Why are so many women returning to the breast? The choice is different for every woman. Some want the inherent closeness with their child that breastfeeding brings. Others want an all natural approach , or they don’t have the money to spend on formula. But for many it’s the health benefits that research has revealed.
In addition to having all the fats, proteins and sugars needed for a growing infant, breast milk also contains the mother’s anti-bodies. This means breastfed babies have stronger immune systems and therefore develop fewer colds and ear infections than formula fed children. Breastfed babies tend to have fewer food allergies as well. Research has even shown a decreased risk of SIDS and childhood leukemia, and breastfed babies tend to have lower rates of childhood obesity later in life.
Even if a mother only breastfeeds until she returns to work post partum, some of these benefits will be passed along to the infant, giving his health and development an added boost.
There are even benefits for breastfeeding mothers. They seem to recover quicker from childbirth than non-breastfeeding mothers, and due to the increased calorie demand of producing breastmilk, they tend to lose their pregnancy weight quicker. Studies have also shown a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers for women who have breastfed.
For these reasons, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding be the sole source of nutrition for the first six months of life, and then in combination with solid foods until at least twelve months. Breast milk even changes its composition to adjust to the nutritional needs of an aging baby, so there’s no need to worry whether your newborn or your six month-old is getting the proper nutrition.
While breastfeeding is the natural way of feeding your baby, it doesn’t always come naturally. Many women have trouble, whether it’s due to the health of the infant or just lack of confidence and experience with the process. Unfortunately, problems and misconceptions about breastfeeding lead large numbers of women to give up early or never even try.
Don’t let misinformation discourage or fool you. There are many myths and misconceptions about breast feeding, such as you won’t produce enough milk or that it hurts to breastfeed. Websites, like breastfeeding.com are good resources of information, and will frequently list myths, misconceptions and frequently asked questions, along with the facts and answers.
If you need breastfeeding help or support, there several options available to you. You can contact a lactation consultant, which is a medical professional who will help you resolve whatever issues you may be having. Similarly, La Leche League volunteers are breastfeeding mothers who offer support and assistance to other mothers. La Leche League is dedicated to supporting breastfeeding mothers and promoting better understanding of the benefits of breastfeeding. They have support groups, forums, and volunteers all geared towards helping women receive the encouragement and support needed to continue. They also have a section on their website that provides information on your legal rights and breastfeeding.
Finally, there’s a National Breastfeeding Helpline operated by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that you can call. It uses trained peer breastfeeding counselors to answer questions. HHS also has a website dedicated to women’s health (www.womenshealth.gov) that has information on all aspects of breastfeeding, including common challenges, going back to work while continuing to breastfeed, information on breastfeeding in public, guidelines on expressed milk storage and even advice videos.
While it is every woman’s right to decide whether breastfeeding or formula feeding is right for them and their baby, breastfeeding does have health benefits that you can’t get from formula alone.
What did you decide?
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