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Breastfeeding Keeps Babies Healthy

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Caring for a baby can be a challenge, but mothers who breastfeed help keep their infants healthy even under the most difficult circumstances.

“Breastfeeding allows a mother to provide the nourishment her baby needs anytime and anywhere,” said Karen Schenk, a public health consultant nurse at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

The advantages of breastfeeding during an emergency are the focus of this year’s Missouri Breastfeeding Month, observed annually in August, and World Breastfeeding Week from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7.

A natural or manmade disaster can contaminate water supplies and shut down stores for days at a time, making it difficult to prepare formula or obtain new supplies. Health officials say planning ahead is the key to keeping family members safe and healthy during an emergency, and breastfeeding can be a part of those plans.

“Family and friends who are supportive of a new mother’s efforts to breastfeed under normal circumstances will strengthen her ability to provide for her baby during an emergency,” Schenk said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life. The academy recommends that babies continue to be breastfed – while solid food is being introduced – until the baby is at least a year old.

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Babies benefit from breastfeeding in a number of ways, Schenk said. Breastfed babies:

* Have fewer health problems such as diarrhea, ear infections, respiratory infections and urinary tract infections;

* Have fewer problems with allergies and asthma; and

* Are less likely to become obese as they grow older.

Mothers benefit as well. Breastfeeding boosts a woman’s immune system, reduces bleeding after childbirth and helps her return to her pre-pregnancy weight sooner. Women who breastfeed also have increased protection from osteoporosis and breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.

In addition to the health benefits, breastfeeding also has economic advantages. Depending on the brand of formula used and the amount a baby eats, breastfeeding can save a family $1,500 to $3,500 a year.

Because breast-fed babies have fewer health problems, the families’ health care costs are lower. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that more than $1 billion in extra medical costs is incurred every year in the United States to treat infants who are not breastfed.