Breastfeeding Advice Prioritizes Health of Babies and Moms
New parents experience societal pressure to do everything the “right way,” including what, where, and how to feed their baby. The decision to breastfeed your newborn child — and for how long — is one of those. Breastfeeding guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) can help parents make informed decisions that promote healthy early childhood development and disease prevention for new mothers.
Previously, the AAP recommended an exclusive breastmilk diet for every baby’s first four to six months of life, followed by the introduction of some solid foods. The academy advised parents to continue feeding babies breastmilk (by breastfeeding or pumping and bottle-feeding) as long as they desired.
The organization’s revised recommendations emphasize the health benefits to both babies and mothers of feeding newborns only breastmilk for the first six months. The update to the AAP guidelines now encourages parents to continue feeding their babies breastmilk, along with nutritious complementary foods, for up to two years after birth. This updated guidance aligns with the World Health Organization’s recommendations on breastfeeding.
“In the past, some women have felt uncomfortable continuing to nurse their children after the first year of life when, in reality, this is more in keeping with international standards,” says Lourdes Q. Forster, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician with expertise in infant nutrition at the University of Miami Health System.
“I feel this new recommendation allows those women who choose to continue to nurse for longer to be supported in this decision.”
Is breast milk more beneficial than infant formula?
“It’s been clear over the past few decades that supporting and encouraging women to breastfeed results in improved rates across the first year of life,” Dr. Forster says.
“Extending breastfeeding into the second year of life provides continued nutritional benefits and immunologic factors that support toddler immune defenses.”
Proven benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk include:
- Research has shown that breastfeeding is linked to decreased rates of sudden infant death syndrome, lower respiratory tract infections, allergies, severe diarrhea, ear infections, and obesity in infants and toddlers.
- Infants fed breastmilk exclusively have reduced risks of asthma, type 1 diabetes, severe lower respiratory disease, gastrointestinal infections, and necrotizing enterocolitis for preterm babies.
- Research shows that breastfeeding or pumping can help lower a mother’s risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancers of the breast and ovaries.
Supporting new parents, encouraging healthy choices
“The new breastfeeding guidelines support the need for policies that ensure every mother’s ability to succeed should she wish to continue breastfeeding for a longer period,” Dr. Forster says.
Eighty-four percent of U.S. women now initiate breastfeeding their newborn infants, and more than half continue breastfeeding to some degree through the first six months. However, Black babies in the U.S. are fed breastmilk at a much lower rate than other babies.
To eliminate this disparity and improve the health and well-being of all children and families, U.S. healthcare policies and workplace laws need to address implicit bias, structural bias, and structural racism.
“These changes will require targeted interventions that are socially and culturally sensitive to groups with lower breastfeeding rates. Hospitals, pediatrics offices, and workplaces should ensure that all women who want to breastfeed have lactation support that is inclusive and equitable. This includes providing paid maternity leave, insurance coverage of lactation consults, and workplace protections for breastfeeding moms,” she says.
“At UHealth, we will continue to support each family’s decision to breastfeed their infant as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.”
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributor for UHealth’s news service.
Reviewed and medically approved in May 2023
Originally published on: July 29, 2022