August is National Breastfeeding Month, which is dedicated to advocacy and promotion of breastfeeding. The theme this year is Together We Do Great Things, in recognition that healthy communities cannot be achieved by one person alone, and that everyone in the community needs to support the people within.
Breastfeeding starts in pregnancy, while the body and brain are preparing to nurture the baby. This is a time for the mother to learn about breastfeeding and develop a support network. The local WIC program can help by directing families to certified Baby-Friendly hospitals and healthcare providers who support breastfeeding. In addition, our local WIC program offers breastfeeding classes and peer counselors are available to answer questions from their experience with breastfeeding. The more the expectant family learns during pregnancy, the more prepared they will be when the baby arrives.
Pregnancy is also a time for the expectant mother to talk with her partner and family, friends, healthcare providers, and employers about goals to create a plan that supports their family’s needs. Breastfeeding has numerous benefits for both mother and child.
Breastmilk is nutritionally ideal for infants. It is safe, clean, and contains antibodies that help protect against many common childhood illnesses.
Infants who are breastfed have reduced risks of gastrointestinal infections, ear infections, respiratory disease, asthma, and childhood obesity.
Breastfeeding also has health benefits for mothers, including reduced risk of ovarian cancer, certain breast cancers, and Type 2 diabetes, as well as quicker recovery from childbirth.
Breastfeeding can be more convenient. Breastfeeding can be done anywhere, with fewer supplies to pack and no worries about getting the milk to the right temperature.
Breastmilk is always the right level of nutrition because it changes during growth as the baby’s needs change.
Because breastfed babies may be sick less often, trips to the doctor and health care costs may be lower.
Breastmilk is a renewable resource and breastfeeding reduces packaging waste.
Physical contact is important for newborns to feel comfortable and bond with the caregiver. Oxytocin that is released from skin-to-skin contact calms the mother and helps let down the flow of breastmilk.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life which means only breastmilk and nothing else, not even water. Appropriate foods can be introduced after 6 months, while the baby continues breastfeeding at least through 12 months. Breastfeeding can be done as long as is comfortable for mother and child, while introducing the child to more variety of foods. Mothers who would like to breastfeed sometimes stop early due to lack of ongoing support within the community or by employer. The WIC program also provides materials that explain the state laws pertaining to breastfeeding, which is protected by law in any place you need to, including workplaces.
Breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn’t always come naturally. It can take time and patience to learn what works best for a mother and baby. Mothers may have concerns or experience challenges which can be helped by a strong support network. Good nutrition for the mother helps support her ability to make plenty of milk and WIC can help by providing nutrition education and healthy food packages. For mothers who experience challenges to breastfeeding, and still want their baby to have the benefits of breastmilk, WIC can also loan breast pumps to those eligible. To access all the information about the WIC program and the support available for families, please call the office, or visit https://www.nchd.org/wic.