Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Breastfeeding Isn't Just a Lifestyle Choice

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently taken its strongest stand ever in favor of breastfeeding. In the current issue of Pediatrics, they make this statement: "Given the documented short- and long-term medical and neurodevelopmental advantages of breastfeeding, infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice." This is encouraging news for breastfeeding advocates because it reinforces the message we've been giving mothers for years. It isn't a matter of breast milk being a superior food. The fact is that human milk is the standard food for human babies. Anything else is an inferior substitute.

I will be the first to aggressively defend a mother who, for reasons beyond her control, has had to resort to using some infant formula to help her baby. It's kind of like using medication when you have to. Nobody wants to keep a child on medication unnecessarily, but what a blessing that the medication exists for those babies who need it!

However, I hope that this AAP statement will open the door for more honest dialogue between doctors (both Ob/Gyn's and Pediatricians) and their patients. When a doctor tells a mother that it doesn't really matter how she feeds her baby, it may serve to undermine her confidence and her belief in breastfeeding. With the advent of this new policy statement, any doctor who doesn't actively support and encourage every patient to breastfeed is either unaware of the research contained in this document, or truly doesn't sincerely care that his or her patients might receive substandard immunological protection.

So what has happened over the last ten years to warrant such a strong statement from the AAP? The statement acknowledges that methodological issues have been raised about some of the studies that have been done. However, the data upon which this statement is based comes from the report prepared by the Evidence-based Practice Centers of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) of the US Department of Health Human Services. It clearly shows that babies who are not exclusively breastfed for 6 months have a 77% higher chance of developing ear infections and a 63% greater chance of contracting an upper respiratory infection.

In many public health sectors, there is a growing emphasis on wellness and prevention of illness as opposed to treatment. The illnesses that breastfeeding helps prevent include asthma, RSV, Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), Leukemia, Celiac Disease, atopic dermatitis, gastroenteritis and Diabetes (Types 1 and 2), and numerous other conditions. It also reduces the risk of SIDS by 36%.  Another way to look at this data is to see that using infant formula increases an infant's chances of having these conditions.

In this document, the AAP also emphasizes the importance of work-place support for breastfeeding mothers. They cite The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in March 2010 which mandates that employers provide “reasonable break time” for nursing mothers and private non-bathroom areas to express breast milk during their workday.

We encourage all mothers to discuss this new AAP statement with your Ob/Gyn and and your pediatrician. Here at A Nurturing Moment, we will do all we can to help you as you nurse your baby, but it makes a big difference if your health care providers offer their support as well. If you have a particularly supportive doctor, please leave a comment so others will know how wonderful he or she is. (Positive comments only, please.)

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