Breastfeeding has benefits for the child, mother, environment, and the economy. The benefits include physical health and nutrition, positive emotional effects, and fostering a deep bond between the mother and child. As stated in the advocacy strategy Breastfeeding Advocacy Initiative, developed by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, “Optimal breastfeeding practices consist of (1) early initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life; (2) exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months and (3) continued breastfeeding for 2 years or beyond.” The best option for feeding infants is natural breastfeeding.
Obstacles to Breastfeeding
Standard prenatal medical visits in the United States include education and instruction that emphasize the importance of breastfeeding and give basic support to expecting mothers. There may be medical reasons why breastfeeding is challenging or even unattainable. An infants’ medical conditions may include but are not limited to tongue-tie, lip-tie, glandular tissue deficiency, excessive reflux, cleft pallet, and cleft lip. Some of these conditions can be treated before the infant leaves to hospital while others require more investigation and occasionally symptoms are missed all together. Mothers may also have medical conditions that cause them to be unable to breastfeed easily or at all. Mothers may suffer from sore nipples, blocked ducts, thrush, and postpartum depression. The La Leche League explains that “Mother and baby need to be together early and often to establish a satisfying relationship and an adequate milk supply.” If breastfeeding is not initiated immediately or the mother and child experience another delays in productive breastfeeding the easy solution is often for mothers to give up trying to breastfeed and moving to formula exclusively.
Working mothers need adequate time in their work day to pump, a suitable space to pump as well as safely store the expressed milk. Although there are laws in place requiring employers to provide private space for breastfeeding; they are still so new there are evolving interpretations. The World Health Organization, states mothers should breastfeed for at least six months, preferably a year. However, in the United States the Family Medical Leave Act only guarantees 12 weeks of job protection an unpaid leave. Modifying breastfeeding schedules and pumping routines to fit the constraints of working mothers can be taxing and deter the continuation of breastfeeding.
Whether at work, in public, or at home, social stigma can be a hurdle for new mothers. Phrases and questions such as good mothers choose breastfeeding, will my colleagues treat me differently, how do I breastfeed at the mall, breasts are not appropriate for public viewing, can run through the minds of new mothers. Often mothers who breastfed have their child in sleep with them for ease of feeding and increased bonding; the benefit is not always recognized by persons outside the immediate family and may instead come across as odd practice. There may be pressure to wean between 6 and 8 months. Any longer may be seen as stunting the child’s development or in extreme cases as sexually inappropriate; when in reality studies show that breastfeeding is developmentally appropriate through age 2. This added stress can make breastfeeding seem unrealistic or not worth the worry.
Benefits to Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding within the first hour of birth has been proven to reduce the risk of neonatal mortality. The first liquid expressed from the breast is colostrum which meets the immediate needs of the infant. Murkoff & Mazel’s, What to Expect: When you’re expecting, explains that a newborn’s stomach can hold only 6ml, or 0.20oz, on the first day. Around day three, when the newborn’s stomach is ready for it, the milk develops into copious production. According to La Leche League, the only food necessary until the baby shows signs of needing solids is breast milk. The liquid the baby receives is more than milk; it contains various components that assist in the child’s development from birth to age 2 and beyond; helping to ward off disease, stimulate growth, and provide high quality nutrition.
Mothers who breastfeed often have strong feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction as a parent. A mother’s body naturally produces Oxycontin in correlation to breast feeding. Oxytocin is a natural mood enhancer and can help combat post-partum depression, anxiety, and stress. The strong bond developed during breastfeeding helps to increase attachment and build a relationship between the mother and child. Additionally the mother will experience positive physical benefits including hormone balance, healthy weight loss, and even reduced risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, ovarian cancer, heart disease, and breast cancer.
There are economic benefits to increased rates in breastfeeding. Breastfed babies have better overall health and require less medical intervention. “In the US, $13 billion could be saved in pediatric health care and other costs if exclusive breastfeeding rates increased. Another $17 million could be saved related to maternal health care and other costs” UNICEF and the World Health Organization. Increased rates of exclusively breastfed babies would decrease landfill use, greenhouse gas emissions, as well as water and energy resources. If more women were willing and able to breastfeed, world-wide there would be a decrease in medical and environmental costs.
Breastfed babies have better overall health and require less medical intervention. Breastfeeding was once the only option, it was normal and necessary for the majority of human existence. Based on this research the only downside to breastfeeding is the complications it may create in social and work place settings. Changing the perception and stigma surrounding breastfeeding is an up-hill battle. Fortunately, there are numerous, influential organizations currently advocating for breastfeeding.