Making The Breastfeeding Decision
Breastfeeding is healthy for mother and baby. Here's why.
It's probably no accident that the declining interest
in breastfeeding collided head on with the birth of the American working
As more women entered the workforce, more were
encouraged to abandon breastfeeding in favor of formula. And for a time, a good
majority did just that.
But today, the pendulum has swung again. Breastfeeding
is now enjoying a rebirth in popularity, thanks in part to the U.S.
government's Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding awareness campaign, launched
in 2000. Its sole purpose is to educate women about the benefits of
"Most of today's new mothers were not breastfed
and many of their own mothers were not breastfed," says Suzanne Haynes, MD,
chairwoman of the federal Health and Human Services Commission's subcommittee
"So we found there was a great need for
information not only on the health benefits but also on some basic education on
how to breastfeed and how it can be accomplished, even if you are a working
Research about breastfeeding continues to show
important health benefits for baby and mother. Mother's milk can offer the baby
a cache of protective effects, including reducing the risk of infections in the
gastrointestinal, urinary, and respiratory tracts, lowering the rate of ear
infections, reducing diarrhea and the risk of SIDS (sudden-infant death
syndrome), and helping to protect against allergies, diabetes, and even obesity
later in life.
"Even if a mother breastfeeds for just a few weeks
after giving birth, she is giving her baby an enormous health boost with
positive effects that can be seen almost immediately, as well as long- term
benefits that may help her child remain healthier clear into adulthood,"
says San Diego pediatrician Audrey Naylor, MD.
Breastfeeding Is Good for Mom, Too
But that's not all. Doctors say breastfeeding is also
beneficial to mom, with both long- and short-term benefits.
"In the short term, breastfeeding increases the
production of oxytocin, a hormone that not only encourages milk production, but
also helps a mother feel more relaxed and calm," says Adam Aponte, MD,
chairman of pediatrics and ambulatory care at North General Hospital in New
York City. He notes that breastfeeding also helps a woman's uterus contract and
return to its prepregnancy state.
Recent studies also show that the effect of
breastfeeding hormones on the uterus may help reduce a mother's risk of
postpartum hemorrhage (massive uterine bleeding). And, according to Naylor,
preliminary evidence shows that nursing may even help protect some women from
In addition, nursing your baby for even a few months
can reduce your risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer, as well as
potentially help strengthen your bones -- which in turn may offer some
protection against osteoporosis.
"There is no question that breastfeeding has some
important health benefits for mom -- and because it is so beneficial for baby,
it's really a win-win situation. A woman is doing something good for herself
and for her baby at the same time," says Naylor.