How many American women breastfeed their babies? Three out of four mothers (75 percent) in the U.S. start out breastfeeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 Breastfeeding Report Card. At the end of six months, breastfeeding rates fall to 43 percent, and only 13 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed.
What are the health benefits of breastfeeding? Breastfeeding protects babies from infections and illnesses that include diarrhea, ear infections, and pneumonia. Breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma and children who are breastfed for six months are less likely to become obese. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Mothers who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
Are there economic benefits of breastfeeding? Families who follow optimal breastfeeding practices can save between $1,200–$1,500 in expenditures on infant formula in the first year alone. A study published last year in the journal Pediatrics estimated that if 90 percent of U.S. families followed guidelines to breastfeed exclusively for six months, the U.S. would save $13 billion a year from reduced medical and other costs. For both employers and employees, better infant health means fewer health insurance claims, less employee time off to care for sick children, and higher productivity. Mutual of Omaha found that health care costs for newborns are three times lower for babies whose mothers participate in the company’s employee maternity and lactation program.
What can policymakers do? Support small nonprofit organizations that promote breastfeeding in African-American communities. Support compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. Increase funding of high-quality research on breastfeeding. Support better tracking of breastfeeding rates as well as factors that affect breastfeeding.
What can we all do? Let’s start by getting a grip. Breastfeeding is natural and healthy for mothers and babies. Numerous studies have pounded the message home. Breast is best! Women who can and want to breastfeed deserve to be met with support from the medical community, their families, and from society as a whole. It’s just common sense.
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- Centers for Disease Control
- La Leche League
- World Health Organization
Source for Statistics: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Image used under Creative Commons License with thanks to crz
Writer Ann Pietrangelo is a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes, and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Author’s Guild. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo