woman breastfeeding her baby

The United States Breastfeeding Committee invites us to celebrate and educate during August, supporting and encouraging all parents who choose to breastfeed their babies. While not every mom can breastfeed exclusively for the recommended 6 – 12 months, as health care providers we try to encourage as much breastfeeding as possible and provide resources.

Because we live in a time of compare and disparage, let me also reassure you that this is a guilt-free zone and we don’t want to set unrealistic or impossible expectations for moms who aren’t able to breastfeed for whatever reason. 

There are many health benefits to breastfeeding your child, including reduced risks of asthma, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, ear and respiratory infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Mom gets benefits too, a lowered risk of hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes, and ovarian and breast cancer. Overall, breastfeeding can reduce stress, anxiety, and increase bonding between mother and baby.

Are American Mothers Breastfeeding More?

Yes, education efforts regarding the benefits of mother’s milk have raised rates, though there is still much work to do with racial and economic inequalities. We have made important strides. Here’s information from the 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Percent of babies breastfeeding at six months increased from 35 percent in 2000 to 49 percent in 2010.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies receive only breastmilk for the first 6 months, and although nearly 6 in 10 (57.6 percent) infants are still breastfeeding at 6 months of age, only 1 in 4 are breastfeeding exclusively.
  • Among infants born in 2015, 4 out of 5 (83.2 percent) started out breastfeeding. This high percentage of babies who start out breastfeeding shows that most mothers want to breastfeed and are trying to do so.
  • Almost half (46.9 percent) were exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months.
  • Only one-third (35.9 percent) of infants were breastfeeding at 12 months.
  • Almost half (49 percent) of employers provide worksite lactation support programs.
  • Younger mothers (aged 20 to 29 years) are less likely to ever breastfeed (80.0%) than mothers aged 30 years or older (86.3%).

Reasons to Keep it Up After 6 Months

  • Create a less fussy eater? Because mom’s milk is flavored by the variety of foods she eats, breastfeeding can broaden babies’ culinary horizons, making them more accepting when solid foods come zooming in on the spoon.
  • A teething reliever. Breast feeding can be a good soother for enflamed gums sprouting new teeth.
  • Lots of Nutrients. In a baby’s second year (12-23 months) 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
  • 29% of energy requirements
  • 43% of protein requirements
  • 36% of calcium requirements
  • 75% of vitamin A requirements
  • 76% of folate requirements
  • 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
  • 60% of vitamin C requirements

Breastfeeding During Covid-19

“There’s anecdotal evidence that, in fact, more mothers are breastfeeding since the COVID-19 pandemic, and breastfeeding for longer,” Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, professor of pediatrics at the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and chair of the AAP’s Section on Breastfeeding, told ABC News. “Maybe there’s no better case for paid leave since the mothers are actually at home and able to breastfeed for longer.”

Groups such as Le Leche League report high traffic in the past months for their online articles about breastfeeding, and calls to their 24-hour hotlines. Women are also interested in “relactation,” which is restarting lactation after stopping for a few days, weeks, or even longer. Moms who have suddenly found themselves working from home and more available to breastfeed are getting back in the game!

The downside is that coaching and teaching breastfeeding techniques is an intimate, hands-on situation. Until now. Trying to help a tearful, frustrated new mother and a hungry infant make things work over the internet is a tough go. But that is the situation for many women and support groups dedicated to helping mothers and babies solve problems with feeding. The free, online baby cafe run by Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, dedicated to the African American community, fears that many women are not getting the help they need. The site Babylist offers a list of their favorite online support groups and breastfeeding classes. 

Can Breastmilk Transmit the Coronavirus?

There is ongoing research about breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not much has been published yet. A small study found no SARS-CoV-2 virus in the breastmilk of infected mothers, which indicates that the virus cannot be passed on through breastmilk.

What if Mom Tests Positive?

A mother who is infected with the virus can still breastfeed. She should wash her hands before and after any contact with baby, and wear a 3-layer face covering.  If she becomes very ill, breast milk can be pumped so a healthy family member can continue with the feeding. Breast pumps and bottles should be thoroughly cleaned. 

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