Breast-feeding Benefits Go Beyond Babies | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 09 August 2012 12:29

080912hBY NANCY WIGGINTON, M.D.

Special to the Times

Health care organizations the world over have universally recognized breast-feeding as one of the most important preventive care measures for children’s health.

Many moms already know of the many health benefits of breast milk for their infants. But the benefits of breast-feeding reach much farther — to mothers, families and society as a whole.

Breast-feeding Protects Babies

The first milk that a new mom produces is called colostrum, also known as “liquid gold.” This thick yellow milk is very rich in nutrients and antibodies to help protect babies from infection.

By the third to fifth day after birth, colostrum changes to mature milk, which has all the nutrients necessary for the first six months of a baby’s life.

The hormones and antibodies in breast milk protect babies from disease. This protection is unique and cannot be duplicated in formula. Breast-fed babies have a lower occurrence of ear infections, diarrhea and many other illnesses.

Breast-feeding also has long-term protective qualities, including a reduced rate of respiratory infections, asthma, obesity, diabetes and childhood leukemia. Breast-feeding has also shown to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Benefits for Mothers

Learning to breast-feed may take a little more effort at first, but in the long run can make life easier for moms. When you breast-feed, there are no bottles or nipples to sterilize. You don’t have to buy, measure and mix formula, and there are no bottles to warm up in the middle of the night.

A mother who chooses to breast-feed exclusively can save an average of $1,500 a year, not to mention the health care costs and trips to the pediatrician’s office or emergency room.

The close physical contact required in breast-feeding boosts oxytocin levels in moms. Oxytocin is a hormone that helps milk flow and also has a calming effect on mothers.

Studies also show health benefits for moms who breast-feed, including lower risk of diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer, and postpartum depression.

Breast-feeding Benefits Society

A recent Harvard University study estimated that if 90 percent of U.S. families breast-fed exclusively for six months, nearly 1,000 deaths among infants could be prevented and $13 million in medical care costs would be saved.

Breast-feeding is also better for the environment. There is less trash and plastic waste compared to that produced by formula cans and bottle supplies.

Support Breast-feeding

In January, 2011, Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin issued a “Call to Action to Support Breast-feeding,” outlining steps that can be taken to remove some of the obstacles faced by women who want to breast-feed.

Many hospitals, including Eden Medical Center, have implemented recommendations by the UNICEF/World Health Organization’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. These recommendations ensure moms receive the education and support they need for successful breast-feeding. It’s good for all of us.

Nancy Wigginton, M.D., is a board-certified OB/Gyn. Dr. Wigginton is part of the Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation and is affiliated with Eden Medical Center. Eden’s breast-feeding support group meets every Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. and is free and open to all breast-feeding moms. For more information, visit www.edenmedcenter.org or call 510-889-5045.

 

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