Health & Medicine

Breast-feeding significantly decreases risk of many diseases

Cindra Greene
Cindra Greene

Mother’s milk is the best nutrition for newborns. It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2012 Breastfeeding Policy states that breast-feeding is not just a preference but a public health issue. There are many medical benefits, and these translate into money savings. It is estimated that the United States would save $13 billion annually if 90 percent of all infants were exclusively breast-fed for six months.

The research shows that the longer a mom breast-feeds her infant, the greater the benefit to her baby and to herself. Babies who are exclusively breast-fed for six months have a 77 percent decreased risk of recurrent ear infections, 63 percent decreased risk of upper respiratory infection and a 77 percent decreased risk of lower respiratory infection.

Exclusive breast-feeding for more than four months decreases the risk of respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis by 74 percent. The surprising thing is that any breast-feeding decreases ear infections by 23 percent, gastroenteritis by 64 percent, inflammatory bowel disease by 31 percent, obesity by 24 percent, and type 2 diabetes by 40 percent.

Any breast-feeding for more than one month decreases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by 36 percent. For premature babies, having breast milk while in the neonatal intensive care unit of a hospital decreases the risk of a serious intestinal disease called necrotizing enterocolitis by 77 percent.

How can we help moms of full-term, healthy babies be more successful with breast-feeding? One important thing we can do is to provide many hours of skin-to-skin contact for mom and baby, both in the hospital and at home.

Skin-to-skin contact involves a baby wearing only a diaper laid on mom’s bare chest and covered with a blanket, big shirt or bathrobe. The baby’s nose and mouth should always be visible. When moms and babies spend time in skin-to-skin, moms produce more milk, babies latch better and babies breast-feed for a longer period of time.

This skin-to-skin contact regulates the newborn heart rate, respiration and blood pressure, and provides the baby with temperature regulation. It also gives mom and baby plenty of bonding time and helps to decrease crying and agitation.

Check with your hospital to see if it has international board-certified lactation consultants on staff to provide breast-feeding support for moms.

Cindra Greene, an advanced practice registered nurse and an international board-certified lactation consultant, assists nursing moms while they are patients at Baptist Health Lexington.