National Breastfeeding Month
August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. The breastfeeding campaign, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, hopes to empower women to commit to breastfeeding by highlighting new research showing that babies who are exclusively breastfed for six months are less likely to develop ear infections, diarrhea and respiratory illnesses, and may be less likely to develop childhood obesity.
Making the decision to breastfeed is a personal matter. It’s also one that’s likely to draw strong opinions from friends and family. Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything your baby needs to grow. And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
Studies indicate that breastfeeding helps improve mothers’ health, as well as their children’s. Just as a woman’s breast milk is designed specifically to nourish the body of an infant, the production and delivery of this milk aids her own health. The first few days after birth, your breasts make an ideal “first milk.” It’s called colostrum. Colostrum is thick, yellowish, and scant, but there’s plenty to meet your baby’s nutritional needs. Colostrum helps a newborn’s digestive tract develop and prepare itself to digest breast milk. As your baby needs more milk and nurses more, your breasts respond by making more milk. Experts recommend breastfeeding exclusively (no formula, juice, or water) for 6 months. If you supplement with formula, your breasts might make less milk.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers breastfeed for at least the first year of a child’s life and continue until they both feel they are ready to stop. The emotional health of the mother may be enhanced by the relationship she develops with her infant during breastfeeding, resulting in fewer feelings of anxiety and a stronger sense of connection with her baby. A woman’s ability to produce all of the nutrients that her child needs can provide her with a sense of confidence. Researchers have pointed out that the bond of a nursing mother and child is stronger than any other human contact. Holding the child to her breast provides most mothers with a more powerful psychological experience than carrying the fetus inside her uterus. The relationship between mother and child is rooted in the interactions of breastfeeding. This feeling sets the health and psychological foundation for years to come.
Images of mothers breastfeeding their babies make it look simple — but most women need some help and coaching. It can come from a nurse, doctor, family member, or friend, and it helps mothers get over possible bumps in the road. Reach out to friends, family, and your doctor with any questions you may have. Most likely, the women in your life have had those same questions. Breastfeeding can be a challenge for moms and babies, as it is new to both of them. Beginning to breastfeed within the first 48 hours of a baby’s life can help ensure a successful breastfeeding experience for mothers and their babies.