Breastfeeding Benefits Updated by the American Dietetic Association

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The health benefits of breastfeeding for both infants and their mothers have been updated and explained in a newly released position paper by the American Dietetic Association (ADA). The ADA strongly encourages breastfeeding whenever possible, noting that it is the “optimal feeding method for the infant.”

When one looks at the statistics on breastfeeding in the United States, the figures are disappointing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics for 2008 show that while 62 percent of new mothers say they have ever breastfed their infant, that figure drops to 39.1 percent who continue breastfeeding two months or longer, and declines to 19.1 percent who are still breastfeeding at one year.

These figures include mothers who also supplement with infant formula. If we consider only mothers who are breastfeeding their infants exclusively (no formula), the figures are only 12.9 percent who do so for at least three months and 7.2 percent who continue to do so for at least six months.

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The American Dietetic Association recommends that mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding with no foods or liquids other than breast milk for the first six months of life. The ADA position paper states that “exclusive breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition and health protection for the first 6 months of life and breastfeeding with complementary foods from 6 months until at least 12 months of age is the ideal feeding pattern for infants.”

Beyond health benefits for both infants and their mothers, breastfeeding also helps control health care costs, which is related to the improvement in health. Human milk provides the best nutrient composition that infants require and thus reduces their risk for a large number of acute and chronic illnesses. For example, states the ADA paper, breastfeeding for infants enhances the immune system, reduces the risk for severe lower respiratory tract infections, asthma, and nonspecific gastroenteritis, and also protects against the development of allergies and intolerances. Breastfed infants have a lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, childhood leukemia, diabetes, and obesity, and less risk of experiencing sudden infant death syndrome.

Benefits for mothers who practice breastfeeding include establishment of a strong bond with their infant, increased calorie burning, which can help with weight loss; a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer; decreased risk for postpartum depression; and less postpartum bleeding and delays in the menstrual cycle. New mothers also can save money by not needing to purchase formula or pay for expenses associated with formula feeding.

More information about breastfeeding from the American Dietetic Association can be found on their website. Other sources of help with breastfeeding can be found at the American Academy of Pediatrics website, the US Department of Health and Human Services Womenshealth.gov website, and the La Leche League.

SOURCES:
American Dietetic Association
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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