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Breastfeeding as a Public Health - and Family – Issue
On the surface, it may seem surprising that breastfeeding should be the contentious issue it often is. It benefits infants' health in so many ways. But for the new mothers who decide they cannot manage it or who are unsuccessful in their efforts, breastfeeding can be a source of feelings of failure and frustration.
Two recent studies, taken together, offer a more balanced picture of an area of motherhood that too-often resembles a battleground. The American Academy of Pediatrics has just issued an updated statement on the value of breastfeeding and the use of human milk.
At almost the same time, a British study provides a clear-eyed look at the reasons why women decide not to breastfeed and finds it is time for breastfeeding recommendations to acknowledge the realities that may lead mothers to decide against the practice.
Strong Evidence for the Benefits of Breastfeeding
Citing numerous short and long-term health benefits to children and mothers, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges that breastfeeding be viewed as “ a public health issue and not only a life style choice” and recommend “exclusive breastfeeding for about six months followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced a with continuation of breastfeeding for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.”
The AAP has have taken such a strong position because the evidence for the health benefits of breastfeeding to infant and mother is abundant and compelling. Citing data from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, the Academy offers a long list of the ways breast milk can improve or safeguard infants' health:
Breastfeeding has also been shown to improve neurodevelopmental outcomes and IQ scores, Higher IQ scores and higher teacher ratings are seen in infants who were exclusively breastfed for three months or longer.
Especially Good for PreemiesThe Academy maintains that, “The potent benefits of human milk are such that all preterm infants should receive human milk.” Although premature infants often cannot breastfeed directly, they can be fed their own mother’s or pasteurized donor milk.
The AAP policy statement outlines safe practices for storage and use of human milk in the Neonatal ICU. Preterm infants fed breast milk have lower incidences of necrotizing enterocolitis, a serious inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, and sepsis, widespread infection. IQ tests and brain imaging studies support the positive neurodevelopmental impact of breast milk on the developing premature central nervous system.