Hooray! It’s World Breastfeeding Week! We love to celebrate breastfeeding all year long, but during this time of year, the world celebrates with us.
So what are we celebrating during World Breastfeeding Week? First of all, the health of our babies, of course. Breast milk is quite possibly the perfect combination of nutrients – protein, fat and vitamins – for your baby designed by nature to be easy to digest. The antibodies in breast milk help babies fend off infections that would otherwise be difficult for their immature immune systems. Breastfed babies are at lower risk for certain types of cancer, obesity, diabetes, asthma, allergies, ear infections and respiratory problems. Breastfeeding also supports greater cognitive function and emotional balance from a young age. But believe it or not, it goes deeper than that.
Breastfeeding improves the health of mothers too, and as well all know, when mama is healthy and strong, a family can thrive. Breastfeeding is also an economic issue. In poverty-stricken countries, breastfeeding may be the only stable and sanitary source of nutrition for babies. In the U.S., breastfeeding itself saves money – no formula, less bottles – but more importantly, when families get sick less, they save in health care costs and parents don’t have to take time off work. And that makes a huge difference in a family’s finances.
This year, the theme of World Breastfeeding Week is “Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal for Life!” The goals are to protect, promote and support breastfeeding globally. Worldwide, poverty rates are decreasing, but still, 1 in 8 people lack daily nutrition. Child mortality rates have improved in the last two decades but 7 million children under the age of five die, mainly from preventable diseases. Many of them are preventable when mother’s are educated and given the opportunity to provide their babies the best start in life, with breast milk.
How is the U.S. progressing towards our “winning goal?” The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life and continued breastfeeding (along with feeding solids) until babies are at least 1-year-old. Research indicates that there are many benefits of extended breastfeeding beyond the first year as well. According to the CDC’s breastfeeding report card for 2013, over 75% of U.S. mothers begin breastfeeding at birth. However, less than 50% are still breastfeeding when their babies are 6-months old and only 27% are breastfeeding by the time their babies are one. That means nearly 75% of women in the U.S. are not meeting the recommendation. Exclusive breastfeeding rates are even lower. At three months, exclusive breastfeeding is less than 40% and by six months, it sinks to around 16%.
The CDC sites several factors that influence breastfeeding success. These include: skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible after birth and continued skin-to-skin time throughout the newborn stage; rooming in with babies in the hospital to quickly get into a breastfeeding rhythm; hospitals not making formula a “quick fix” when babies struggle to latch immediately; and support from nurses, lactation consultants, peer counselors and family members. Statistics show that when breastfeeding is encouraged in the hospital through professional support, skin-to-skin contact and rooming-in, longer term breastfeeding rates increase significantly.
As this report card indicates, there is room for improvement in the U.S. that will make a difference in the health of our families, and allow us to act as a role model for the world. World Breastfeeding Week is important to women and children, but also our communities as a whole. That’s why this is a week for everyone to celebrate and join hands in promoting breastfeeding by educating new moms about the benefits of breastfeeding, working to remove barriers that many women face in breastfeeding even from healthcare professionals, and encourage a cultural advocacy and social acceptance of the most natural way for mothers to nurture their babies.
Please join us in making a change. We’re supporting several big initiatives during World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month. Through a partnership with WIC, we’re donating $15,000 in nursing bras to deserving moms nationwide. We’re also a Presenting Sponsor in the second annual “We’ve Got Your Back Babe” fitness challenge benefiting the Best for Babes® Foundation, Breastfeeding USA and the United Stations Lactation Consultant Association (USLCA.) Find out how you can get involved on Facebook.