The number of new mothers in the United States who begin and sustain breast feeding is among the lowest in the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, about 79% of infants are breastfed, in the U.S. only 21.4% are.
A recent statement in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association outlined exactly why breast milk is the best milk for babies in most circumstances. The association went so far as to recommend exclusive breast feeding (no other liquids or solids) for infants for their first six months of life, followed by continuation of breastfeeding through at least one year of age with the gradual introduction of solids starting after six months. The World Health Organization echoes these guidelines but extends the recommended period of breastfeeding through at least age two years. The American Academy of Pediatrics contends that breastfed infants should be the standard against which all other feeding methods are compared with respect to growth, health, development, and other outcomes. All three organizations cite the numerous health benefits of breastfeeding to both infant and mother.
The association went so far as to recommend exclusive breastfeeding (no other liquids or solids) for infants for their first six months of life, followed by continuation of breastfeeding through at least one year of age...
Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce infant deaths from all causes except congenital anomalies and cancers. Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with lowered rates of hospitalization from infections during the first year of life. More specifically, breastfeeding has been shown to lower rates of ear infections, stomach/intestinal infections, and infections of the lungs. There is a 15−19% reduction in the risk of developing childhood leukemia for a child who is breastfed for at least six months. Breastfeeding has also positively impacted the development of atopic dermatitis, eczema, and asthma in infants whose families have strong histories of these conditions. It is also associated with a decrease in Sudden Infant Death syndrome and in a serious intestinal complication of prematurity called necrotizing enterocolitis.
Breastfeeding also has some long−term health implications including a reduction in the incidence of elevated blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes when the infants reach adulthood. Some studies have also suggested increased IQ and improved cognitive development (thinking and reasoning skills) in breastfed infants which may be related to components of the breast milk itself as well as to the enhanced mother−infant bonding which may lead to increased stimulation and communication between the pair.
The decision to breastfeed is an important one. It is equally important for fathers to be supportive involved with the process. Ideally, questions and considerations should be raised long before the delivery. New mothers should find sources of peer and professional support before the baby arrives. New parents should feel comfortable seeking the help of their babies' doctors and as problems and questions inevitably arise in the earliest days of feeding.