Karen Kaplan delivers the good news:
From 2000 to 2008, the proportion of mothers who breast-fed their infants rose from 70.3% to 74.6%. Even better, the proportion of mothers who were still breastfeeding after six months jumped from 34.5% to 44.4% during the same period.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), World Health Organization (WHO), and the Institute of Medicine all recommend exclusive breastfeeding of infants until 6 months of age. Continued nursing up to a year is advised as solid foods are initiated and advanced after 6 months old.
The benefits of breastfeeding for both baby and mother are well-known. When compared with infants who are bottle-fed cow milk-based formulas, the differences are striking. Outlined in the AAP’s 2012 policy statement, breastfeeding advantages for infants are numerous:
- Respiratory infections (colds, sinus infections, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia) and ear infections are less common and less severe when they do occur.
- Gastrointestinal tract infections are much less common (64% less). This protection persists for 2 months after breastfeeding is stopped. Furthermore, the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in premature babies is much less.
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is significantly reduced in infants who breastfeed.
- Allergic diseases such as asthma and eczema are reduced.
- Celiac disease and inflammatory bowel diseases (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) are less likely to occur in breast-fed infants.
- Obesity rates are significantly lowered in infants who nurse. In fact, the rate in teens and adults is 15-30% less if they experienced any nursing in infancy compared with no breastfeeding.
- Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus is reduced by 30%. As a result, the numerous, serious complications of type 1 diabetes can be decreased as well.
- Childhood leukemia and lymphoma see a reduced rate of 15-20%.
- Neurodevelopmental outcomes appear to be improved in breastfed babies, measured with intelligence scores and teacher ratings.
Mothers who breastfeed also experience significant health benefits themselves, including:
- Decreased blood loss and involution of the uterus in the postpartum period.
- Increased child spacing due to delayed resumption of the menstrual cycle in lactating mothers (not a reliable birth-control method).
- Child abuse and neglect is significantly less likely to happen by mothers who breastfeed.
- Type 2 diabetes (and its metabolic consequences) is reduced in mothers who breastfeed.
- Rheumatoid arthritis, adult cardiovascular disease, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and type 2 diabetes all show a reduction of risk, especially the longer a mother nurses.
- The risks of breast and ovarian cancers are also decreased relative to the duration of nursing: the risk goes down as the cumulative length (over multiple pregnancies) of breastfeeding goes up.
Still, according to Kaplan, the picture is not completely rosy. African-Americans are lagging behind statistically:
Though the popularity of breast-feeding rose among all three racial and ethnic groups surveyed, the authors of the CDC report found that African Americans babies were much less likely than other babies to be breast-fed.
Specifically, the proportion of black mothers who started breast-feeding jumped from 47.4% in 2000 to 58.9% in 2008. For whites, those numbers grew from 71.8% to 75.2%, and for Latinas, they rose from 77.6% to 80% (a difference that was too small to be statistically significant).
Similarly, the proportion of black moms who were still breast-feeding after six months rose from 16.9% to 30.1%, while for whites the growth was from 38.2% to 46.6% of mothers and for Latinos it was from 34.6% to 45.2%.
The CDC says there’s still work to do:
“Despite increases in the prevalence of breast-feeding, fewer than half of the infants in the survey were still breast-feeding at 6 months, indicating that women who choose to breast-feed their infants need support to continue breast-feeding,” they wrote.
Read Karen Kaplan’s article here.
Read CDC report here.
Read AAP Policy Statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk here.