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Breastfeeding Important For Infants Born Premature

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

As part of Prematurity Awareness Month, the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) is stressing the importance of breastfeeding for infants who are born early.

DPH recommends all mothers breastfeed their babies, stressing exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and to continue breastfeeding for at least two years while babies begin eating appropriate complementary foods as the gold standard. Public health officials also stress the importance of breastfeeding for premature infants.

"The benefits of breastfeeding, including protection from many diseases, are especially critical for premature infants," said Ruth Shepherd, M.D., director of the Division of Maternal and Child Health in DPH. "Kentucky has one of the highest rates of premature births in the country, meaning many of our infants need extra care when they are born. Health officials believe that breast milk is the healthiest nutritional option for infants, especially those born premature."

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently published an analysis of studies on the impact of breastfeeding in developed countries. Published in 2007, one conclusion was that breastfeeding has a profound impact on both infant and maternal health, including reducing the risk of ear infections, gastroenteritis, respiratory tract infections, dermatitis, asthma, obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia and sudden infant death syndrome in the child, as well as breast cancer, ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes in the mother.

"Breastfeeding is the best choice for both mother and baby, especially babies born premature," said Becky Derifield, state breastfeeding promotion coordinator. "Many women are faced with challenges or simply don't know all the health benefits of breastfeeding. Support from family members, loved ones, friends, health care providers and employers is crucial."

The Kentucky WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program provides support and information for prenatal and breastfeeding mothers to help ensure good health for Kentucky's babies. The program is operated through local health departments, provides one-on-one counseling, information and round-the-clock guidance for mothers new to breastfeeding.

The United States Department of Agriculture funds the program through a grant. It is available to the participants of the WIC Program in designated agencies.

Additional options for mothers include International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, who provide professional education and support to new mothers and help them work through challenges.