In the United States, most mothers want – and try – to breastfeed. Unfortunately, one mother’s interest alone is not always enough to make breastfeeding possible. Rates of breastfeeding in the United States vary widely because of the multiple and complex barriers mother’s face when starting and continuing to breastfeed. Although most mothers hope to breastfeed, and 81% of babies start out being breastfed, only 22% are exclusively breastfed 6 months later.
The success rate among mothers who want to breastfeed can be greatly improved through active support from their families, friends, communities, clinicians, health care leaders, employers, and policymakers. Given the importance of breastfeeding for the health and well-being of mothers and children, it is critical that we take action across the country to support breastfeeding.
What is the Importance of Breastfeeding?
Breast milk helps babies grow healthy and strong from day one. The cells, hormones, and antibodies in breastmilk help protect babies from illness. This protection is unique and changes every day to meet the baby’s growing needs.
Research shows that breastfed babies have lower risks of:
- Leukemia (during childhood)
- Obesity (during childhood)
- Ear infections
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Lower respiratory infections
- Necrotizing (NEK-roh-TEYE-zing) enterocolitis (en-TUR-oh-coh-LYT-iss), a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in premature babies, or babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Type 2 diabetes
Why Should I Support Breastfeeding?
Believe it or not, our society benefits when mothers breastfeed.
- Breastfeeding saves lives. Research shows that if 90% of families breastfed exclusively for six months, nearly 1,000 deaths among infants could be prevented each year.
- Breastfeeding saves money. Medical costs may be lower for fully breastfed infants than never-breastfed infants. Breastfed infants usually need fewer sick care visits, prescriptions, and hospitalizations.
- Breastfeeding also helps make a more productive workforce. Mothers who breastfeed may miss less work to care for sick infants than mothers who feed their infants formula. Employer medical costs may also be lower.
- Breastfeeding is better for the environment. Formula cans and bottle supplies create more trash and plastic waste. Your milk is a renewable resource that comes packaged and warmed.
How Can I Support Breastfeeding?
- Provide positive encouragement and/or share your own personal breastfeeding experiences. This can motivate mothers to continue breastfeeding or to start breastfeeding.
- Educate yourself. There are many benefits of breastfeeding that positively affect both the infant and mother. Plus, new mothers rely on their partners and their own mothers for help and advice on how to feed their babies. Family members need up-to-date information so they can help mothers make decisions about breastfeeding.
- Encourage local businesses and employers to provide a breastfeeding friendly space. Having a space for mothers to breastfeed their infant/child or be able to pump and store breast milk for their infant while they are at work results in less turnover and absences, while having better employee performance and job satisfaction.
Local Breastfeeding Resources
The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program provides breastfeeding education and support to mothers who qualify. To see if you or a family member qualifies for the WIC program, call Burnett County Department of Health and Human Services at 715-349-7600 Ext. 1267 or call the Washburn County Department of Health and Human Services at 715-635-4400.
Prenatal breastfeeding education classes and a breastfeeding support group, Bosom Buddies, are also offered through the Burnett County Family Resource Center in Siren. For more information on the Bosom Buddies class and/or support group please call 715-349-2292.
Working together to support breastfeeding mothers can make a difference in the overall health of our communities!
Submitted by: Sarah Miller, RD, CD, CLS, Burnett County DHHS-WIC Director and Public Health Dietitian
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