It would be hard to find someone who does not think breastfeeding is best for a baby. Numerous studies recite countless reasons for breastfeeding, leaving too many moms struggling with weighing their personal reality with parental guilt. They are faced with out-of-whack hormones and a gripping fear that a bottle of formula will harm their baby’s health, wealth and more.
This week’s latest argument in favor of breastfeeding is a meta-analysis that shows that mother’s milk reduces the likelihood of leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. Published yesterday, the study shows babies who were breast-fed for at least six months are 19 percent less likely to be diagnosed with leukemia as a child or teen than those who were nursed less or not at all. The researchers hypothesized that breast milk, which is known to contain antibodies and other “immunologically active components” that help fight infections, boost the immune system and helps fight a variety of ills, including leukemia. There are many other illnesses that breastfeeding provides some immunity to for a newborn as well.
Older studies suggested that breast-fed children earned more at grown ups and that they have higher IQs. For the income research, a team tracked down approximately 3,500 adults in their 30s who were involved with a breastfeeding study as newborns in Brazil during the early 1980s. Back then, the researchers tracked the length of time the babies were breast-fed. They now compared those time periods with the now-grown participants earn. Those who were breast-fed for most of their first year earned almost 40 percent more than those who were not.
The same Brazilians were given an intelligence test in the 30-year-later follow-up research. They showed, after adjusting the results for demographic factors like parental education, the adults who were breast-fed for longer than six months had 3.5 more points on IQ tested than those who did not.
With those and other medical reasons for breast-feeding (and the reality that it helps new moms lose baby weight), are moms in the U.S. breastfeeding for the six months or more recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics? Approximately 77 percent of new mothers in 2013 were breastfeeding babies after birth, with about 50 percent still add it when the child was six months old. That is a marked increase from the 35 percent still doing so at the six-month mark in 2000. Top states for breastfeeding are Idaho, California and Oregon. Mississippi and other Southern states had the lowest rates of moms who offered their children breast milk.
Reasons Why People Do Not Breastfeed
There are three main reasons women do not breastfeed their babies: They have a health reason not to, they are discouraged by the physical reality, or there are economic reasons.
A mother cannot breastfeed if doing so endangers her health or the babies. The best example here is if a woman has to take a medication that cannot is dangerous for the infant to absorb through breast milk. Additionally, if the woman has some other health problem she needs to recuperate from, such as a woman having an appendectomy five months postpartum.
The more common reason is the woman is exhausted, sore and gives up. A mom recuperating from a long delivery or a C-section, feeding every two hours as well as dealing with sore nipples and yo-yoing hormones. Someone who has not experienced the first few weeks after giving birth cannot imagine that something so natural can be difficult, but babies do not automatically known what to do and neither do moms. Exhaustion and lack of sleep often strip away any willpower.
Contrary to the recommendations to only give a baby breast milk for the first six months, however, having someone else give a bottle of formula every once in a while to allow the mother to rest and recuperate may be in the child’s best interest. Pediatrics journal even suggested, based on a study that limited formula use might help some mothers breast feed their children for longer by helping get past the difficult period immediately following birth and letting rest and milk production improve so stave off discouragement.
Finally, the reality for many is that the economics of breastfeeding undermine it, i.e., it costs too much in many ways. To achieve a full six months of breastfeeding, women need adequate maternity leave and more support when feeding or pumping outside the home. Feeding and pumping in a restroom is less than sanitary and uncomfortable. Then, there is the time involved. Even in states when the moms are legally guaranteed unpaid break time to pump, they have to work a longer day to make up for it, which can mean paying more for childcare. While it is cheaper to feed a baby breast milk than formula, the time involved may also preclude her from doing other things at home too.
The reality is that most moms know that breastfeeding is best and the reasons for it. They should not be guilted into feeling they are doing the wrong thing for their child if breastfeeding does not work for their lives.
(Writer’s admission: I breast-fed my two children for more than six months. They got some formula to augment occasionally before returning to work and once a day afterwards because pumping enough while working just was not feasible.)
By Dyanne Weiss
Los Angeles Times: Breastfeeding may prevent 19% of childhood leukemia cases, study says
Los Angeles Times: Breastfeeding pays: Babies who nursed earn more as adults, study says
JAMA Pediatrics: Trends of US Hospitals Distributing Infant Formula Packs to Breastfeeding Mothers, 2007 to 2013
JAMA Pediatrics: Breastfeeding and Childhood Leukemia Incidence
Daily Beast: Has Breastfeeding Mania Gone Too Far?
Forbes: Breastfeeding Might Reduce Leukemia Risk, But What Does That Really Mean?
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC): 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card
Los Angeles Times: More U.S. moms embrace breastfeeding, led by Idaho and California
JAMA Pediatrics: Effect of Early Limited Formula on Duration and Exclusivity of Breastfeeding in At-Risk Infants: An RCT