Could bottle feeding soon be a thing of the past?
In a push to make New Yorkers healthier, city hospitals started restricting and monitoring the distribution of baby formula to mothers in September, 2012. The “Latch On NYC” intiative, launched by New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, asked city hospitals to agree to limit promotion, restrict and tract access to, and discontinue distribution of free formula.
The idea is to support breastfeeding, since scientific research to date has shown that it can boost the immune system, reduce the risk of allergies, and even protect the child from obesity. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, however, moms don’t need the governor’s help—they’re already making the choice to breastfeed more often than ever before.
CDC Says Breastfeeding is On the Rise
In 2009, about 77 percent of moms started breastfeeding, up from 74.6 percent in 2008. According to the CDC, this is the largest one-year increase in breastfeeding in 10 years. The number of women breastfeeding at six months increased from 44.3 percent in 2008 to 47.2 percent in 2009. The number of moms breastfeeding at 12 months out was also on the rise, from 23.8 percent up to 25.5 percent.
The CDC notes that part of the reason for the increase may be improved support for breastfeeding moms at hospitals. In 2008, less than 2 percent of births occurred in so-called “Baby Friendly” facilities—those places that have been recognized by an international program of best practices in maternity care. In the last four years, that number has tripled to six percent.
Seems women have been tuning into the scientific studies suggesting that breastfeeding is the best option for raising optimally healthy children.
WHO Recommends Breastfeeding
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breastfeeding is the best source of nourishment for infants and young children. It gives infants all the nutrients they need for healthy development, contains antibodies that help protect them from common illnesses, and is readily available and affordable. The organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, with other foods complementing breast milk for up to two years or more.
WHO also notes that breastfeeding benefits mothers, reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer later in life, and helping women to reutrn to their pre-pregnancy weight faster, lowering rates of obesity. They’re so serious about promoting breastfeeding that in 1981, they created an international code to regulate the marketing of breastmilk subsitutes. The code calls for:
- all formula labels and information to state the benefits of breastfeeding and the health risks of substitutes,
- no promotion of breast-milk substitutes,
- no free samples of substitutes to be given to pregnant women, mothers, or their families,
- and no distribution or free or subsidized substitutes to health workers or facilities.
The WHO also supports “World Breastfeeding Week,” which is celebrated every year from August 1–7 in more than 170 countires to encourage breastfeeding around the world.
According to UNICEF, however, breastfeeding patterns are still far from the recommended levels in the developing world. Only 39 percent of all infants 0–5 months of age in the developing world are exclusively breastfed, and less than 60 percent of 6- to 9-month-olds continue to be breastfed while also receiving solid, semi-solid or soft foods.
Back to Our Roots
The whole idea that breastfeeding is better may have come from ancient cultures. Formula feeding is a recent phenomena, and researchers wondered if like so many things, “natural” was better.
Native Americans, for example, believe that breastfeeding is not only a good way to provide a healthy meal for their babies, but a way to take back their Native identities. Kris Rhodes, director of the American Indian Cancer Foundation and a former researcher at the University of Minnesota, said there is a yearning among Native women for a stronger tribal and spiritual connection that breastfeeding brings.
In other tribal cultures, according to James W. Prescott, Ph.D., of the Institute of Humanistic Science, breastfeeding-bonding for 2.5 years or longer has been documented to help prevent depression and suicide.
What if Women Are Having Trouble?
Despite all the evidence supporting breastfeeding as the healthy option, for some women, it’s difficult. They may be tired after giving birth, experience sore nipples, and have difficulty staying up nights, all making the bottle look like an easier option. They may get nervous that the baby isn’t getting enough, feel awkward about nursing in public, or feel pressured to get back to work, which can disrupt normal feedings.
For moms who struggle with breastfeeding, following are some tips that may help:
- Take a prenatal breastfeeding class. By informing yourself ahead of time, you can increase the likelihood that you’ll overcome difficulties. Realize from the start that breastfeeding is very time consuming, especially during the first few weeks. Plan ahead to have that time.
- If you have problems, get help immediately. Breastfeeding difficulties can become more complicated over time, so seek early intervention from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
- Get support from others. If you don’t have family or friends that support breastfeeding, try to join a support group, or found one of your own.
- If you’re returning to work, consider getting an electric pump, which is stronger than a manual and will help express the milk your baby needs while you are gone.
- If you have sore nipples, make sure your baby is letting go when he or she comes off the breast. If not, reduce your discomfort by gently inserting a finger into the side of the mouth to break the suction. Wear bras made of natural fabrics, and moisturize with olive oil or other nourishing hydrators.
What do you think of New York’s Latch-On program? Do you think mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed?
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“New York City’s ‘Latch On NYC’ Initiative Seeks to Increase Breastfeeding,” AirTalk, August 1, 2012, http://www.scpr.org/programs/airtalk/2012/08/01/27674/new-york-latch-on-nyc-initiative-breastfeeding/.
Rob Capriccioso, “Breast-feeding’s Role in Taking Back Native Culture,” Serving the Nations, March 1, 2011, http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2011/03/01/breast-feeding-important-in-american-indian-culture-19365.
James W. Prescott, Ph.D., “Breastfeeding Bonding for 2.5 Years or Longer: Preventing Depression, Suicide, and Violence,” http://www.violence.de/prescott/letters/BREASTFEEDING_BONDING.pdf.
Bonnie Rochman, “Bloomberg’s breast-feeding plan: Will locking up formula help new moms?” CNN.com, August 3, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/02/health/time-bloomberg-breast-feeding/index.html.
April Daniels Hussar, “NYC Mayor Wants to ‘Lock Up’ Baby Formula: Is He Going Too Far?” Healthy Living, http://healthyliving.msn.com/pregnancy-parenting/advice/nyc-mayor-wants-to-lock-up-baby-formula-is-he-going-too-far.
Lenore Skenazy, “Sucking the Choice Out of Parenting,” New York Daily News, August 1, 2012, http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/sucking-choice-parenting-article-1.1125979.
“Two Thirds of Mothers Have Trouble Breastfeeding,” Medical News Today, June 5, 2012, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/246187.php.