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What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding?

Find out how breastfeeding can benefit your baby.

By
Rob Lamberts, MD
August 5, 2009
Episode #008

Page 2 of 2

Breastfeeding Leads to Healthier Babies

One study concluded that babies born in the US who were breastfed at any time during infancy had a nearly 25% lower chance of dying in the first year of life, and that risk went down further the longer the child was breastfed. The authors estimated that promoting breastfeeding has the potential to prevent or delay approximately 720 infant deaths each year.

Wow. 720 babies alive who wouldn’t be. It’s hard to overlook numbers like that.

World wide, the benefits of breastfeeding are even more marked. In developing countries, the benefit of breastfeeding lies not only in the healthy nature of breast milk. Water-borne disease kills millions of children each year, and avoiding using contaminated water in formula can save the baby’s life.

Let’s not forget the bond that is formed between mother and child through the act of breastfeeding. The bottom line is this: babies are designed to be breastfed, and breast milk is designed perfectly for babies.

When Shouldn’t You Breastfeed?

There are a few circumstances in which breastfeeding should not be done. These include:

  • Mothers with HIV infection

  • Babies with a rare metabolic condition called Galactosemia (which all babies born in the US are tested for at birth)

  • Severe maternal illness or malnourishment.

Additionally, there are some medications that should not be taken by nursing mothers. For a list of these medications, you can go to the website for the Drug and Lactation Database. 

But the overwhelming majority of babies can and should be breastfed. Even premature infants benefit greatly from expressed milk from the mother.

Quick and Dirty Tips for Breastfeeding

1. If possible, all babies should be breastfed for at least the first six months of life.

A lot of parents are not aware of the huge advantage they give their child by feeding them this way. Babies who are breastfed are healthier than those who are not.

Again, don’t feel guilty if you cant. I do understand that breastfeeding isn’t always possible. Most kids who are bottle-fed do OK, but there is no doubt that nursing your baby for the first six months of life will give them a better chance to be healthy.

2. Seek out resources to help with the process if you aren’t sure you can nurse your child.

There are a whole lot of resources for mothers considering breastfeeding. The first obvious person is the obstetrician or nurse midwife who is delivering the child; most of these providers have plenty of resources they can share. There are also lactation specialists in most communities as well as organizations like the La Leche League who actively promote breastfeeding and can give advice and instruction. I will put a bunch of links in the show notes.

3. Talk to your child’s doctor about breastfeeding.

As a pediatrician, I am often answering questions about breastfeeding and giving advice. I also recommend a Vitamin D supplement for breastfed infants. If you have trouble breastfeeding, don’t give up. There is help to make sure you can successfully nurse your child.

4. It’s not all-or-none.

Even partial breastfeeding is better than none. Just nursing once or twice a day can give benefit to the child. Something is better than nothing.

That’s it for today’s podcast. I hope I didn’t scare too many of the men off.

Remember to check out the other World Breastfeeding Week-themed episodes on QDT. Mighty Mommy is offering tips on breastfeeding your baby in public, Modern Manners Guy explains breastfeeding the polite way, Nutrition Diva gives nutrition tips for breastfeeding mothers, and Legal Lad explores whether or not breastfeeding in public is legal.

If you have questions you want answered, send them to housecalldoctor@quickanddirtytips.com . You can also find me on Twitter as @housecalldoc and on Facebook under House Call Doctor.

Catch you next time! Stay Healthy!

Resources

Breastfeeding — Best for Baby, Best for Mom? - This comprehensive Web site from the Office on Women's Health offers breastfeeding information and a breastfeeding helpline.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Breastfeeding Pages?- The CDC has basic information about breastfeeding including the safety of vaccinating pregnant women, traveling and breastfeeding, and other helpful information about breastfeeding and disease prevention.

International Lactation Consultant Association? - Visit this site to find local International Board Certified Lactation Consultants by zip code. Be sure to have a name and number of a lactation consultant on hand before you have your baby. Also, ask your obstetrician and pediatrician about lactation support in their office.

La Leche League International? - La Leche League International offers many resources for families including breastfeeding help, breastfeeding laws, breastfeeding publications, links to local LLL leaders and groups, and more.

American Academy of Pediatric Policy Statement on Breastfeeding and the use of Human Milk:   http://tinyurl.com/3jmdk
Breastfeeding and the Risk of Postneonatal Death in the United States -- Chen and Rogan 113 (5): e435 -- Pediatrics

Breastfeeding mom image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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