Breast is still best, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which recently updated its policy statement about breastfeeding and infant nutrition. The updated policy statement details findings from recent research about the benefits of breastfeeding for babies, mothers, and the community.
Here are some of the breastfeeding basics from the new AAP statement:
- Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of diseases, like diarrhea, ear infections, and meningitis. Premature babies may especially benefit from the enhanced nutrition that breast milk provides. Some research has shown that breastfeeding also reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, diabetes, and obesity.
- Breastfeeding may positively affect the brain. Some studies have shown that breastfeeding is associated with improved cognitive development. Breastfeeding may also provide pain relief during certain medical procedures.
- Breastfeeding benefits moms. Moms who breastfeed bleed less during the postpartum period, return to their prepregnancy weights more quickly, and may have a decreased risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and hip fractures and osteoporosis later in life.
- Breastfeeding benefits the community. Increasing breastfeeding rates has the potential to decrease annual health care costs by $3.6 billion. Parents with breastfed infants may lose less work hours due to infant illness.
- Breastfeeding benefits the environment. Breastfeeding decreases the number of bottles and formula cans that end up landfills. And less energy would be needed to produce and transport formula if more parents adopted breastfeeding.
Despite the obvious benefits of breastfeeding, doctors know that a variety of factors influence whether a woman will actually choose to breastfeed her infant. Although the rates of moms who start breastfeeding shortly after birth have increased since 1990, the rates of exclusive breastfeeding (in which infants receive all their nutrition from breast milk) haven't changed much. The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life because it does the best job of strengthening the immune system and protecting babies from diseases.
But moms who don't know the importance of breastfeeding or who are having trouble getting started, who don't have family or spousal support to do it, who don't have access to good health care, and who have to return to work shortly after birth, may find it more difficult to breastfeed their infants. For more support, these moms can seek advice from pediatricians, obstetricians, family doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants - all of these health care pros can offer suggestions for how to make exclusive breastfeeding easier.
What This Means to You: To ensure that exclusive breastfeeding goes smoothly from the start, try these tips from the AAP's policy statement:
- Have skin-to-skin contact with your newborn right after delivery until the first feeding is finished, if possible.
- Avoid giving your infant supplemental formula, unless your child's doctor recommends it.
- Avoid using a pacifier until your child has learned to feed well.
- When beginning breastfeeding, put your child on your breast 8 to 12 times during a 24-hour period or whenever your infant seems hungry.
- Check your breastfeeding technique with a doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant a few times.
- Take your newborn to the doctor for a checkup at 3 to 5 days after birth and 2 to 3 weeks of age (or when your doctor recommends).
- Sleeping near your infant's crib could aid the breastfeeding process.
- If your child needs to be hospitalized, try to pump your breasts so your infant can be fed breast milk.
Source: Section on Breastfeeding - American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, February 2005
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: March 2005