“Breast is best” seems to be the mantra of new mothers in the 21st century. In the United States, 77% of mothers now choose to breastfeed and half of these are still breastfeeding at six months.[1] This is a huge success for the American Academy of Pediatrics, which urges mothers to exclusively breastfeed for at least six months and then to continue breastfeeding with added food supplementation until the child is at least a year old.

If you are not familiar with the enormous benefits of breastfeeding, let me give you a quick summary:[2]

1)    Serious respiratory tract infections reduced over 70%

2)    Ear infections reduced over 20%

3)    Serious gastrointestinal infections reduced over 60%

4)    Sudden infant death syndrome reduced over 30%. In fact, It has been calculated that more than 900 infant lives per year may be saved in the United States if 90% of mothers exclusively breastfed for 6 months

5)    Celiac disease reduced over 50%

6)    Childhood inflammatory bowel disease reduced over 30%

7)    Adult obesity reduced by 30%

8)    Type 1 diabetes reduced by 30%

9)    Decreased risk of childhood leukemias

10) Possibly improved neuro-developmental outcomes aka smarter kids (most pronounced in breastfed preterm infants)

With all the benefits of breastfeeding, why doesn’t everyone in the United States breastfeed? There are lots of reasons. But one of the main reasons has got to be feeding difficulties. You see, most babies don’t come out naturally ready to latch. It takes time for mommy and baby to figure out the feeding thing. I remember well, how long it took for me to get the hang of breastfeeding my two children. In the beginning, I felt like a beached whale trying to feed a baby elephant. Other reasons for not breastfeeding include lack of education, unsupportive work environments, chronic disease (such as AIDS or cancer), or medications that could be harmful to the baby (some antidepressants, for example).

I was a formula fed baby. For various reasons, my mother could not breastfeed me. I still bonded well with my mom, had a healthy childhood, and did very well in school. So, while breastfeeding does offer many potential advantages, it is not synonymous with being a “good mother”. For women who cannot breastfeed, formula does provide an excellent, healthy alternative.

Thankfully, most women can breastfeed and more and more are doing it. Society is catching up: Hospitals are hiring on site lactation consultants, workplaces are becoming more accommodating, and lactation support groups are springing up everywhere. The net effect has led to a 14% increase in the number of women breastfeeding in just ten years!

Remember my comment about feeling like a beached whale? Thankfully, I found an excellent lactation consultant who helped me through the first few weeks. It took some time, but both babies eventually figured it out and I was able to breastfeed both my children well over a year.

 

References:

[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cdc-breast-feeding-rates-rise-to-77-percent-of-us-moms/

[2] http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full#content-block


About the Author

Rachel Nelson MD

graduated from Loma Linda University and completed a pediatric residency at UC Davis. She has a passion for helping children reach their full potential. She is married to a colorectal surgeon and together they have two children: Amy and Michael. Dr. Nelson enjoys playing outside with her kids, gardening, and music.

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