National Breastfeeding Month the perfect time to help raise awareness

By Kayla Sellers

Breastfeeding Peer Counselor, Clark County Health Department

Since the first National Breastfeeding Month was celebrated in 2011, it has continued to be recognized for the entire month of August, with the first week being known as World Breastfeeding Week.  This month has been used as a time for education and encouragement for pregnant and breastfeeding moms, as well as the general public. One specific goal was to spread awareness on the benefits of exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and doctors all across the world recognize and promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life, then continued breastfeeding for 1-2 years, or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding means that the baby should have no bottles of water or juice, no cereals or baby food, or anything to eat/drink other than breast milk, unless otherwise directed by their doctor. This is the optimal nutrition for the baby’s best start to life. The benefits of exclusively breastfeeding include: disease protection, reduced childhood mortality, promoted sensory and cognitive development, and much more.

Breast milk is the best way to protect an infant from diseases. Antibodies that are present in the mother’s body are passed on through her breast milk. This can protect the baby from illnesses the mother has had in the past, as well as current illnesses or bacteria that she may be exposed to. The baby’s saliva also communicates with the mother’s body during a nursing session, so any germs that the infant may have been exposed to (such as germs they may pick up at daycare), the mother’s milk will produce antibodies to protect the baby. There are just no alternatives to the ever-changing protecting factors provided through breast milk.

The decreased risk of infant mortality in breastfed infants is for a variety of reasons. Studies have shown that infants who are breastfed have a reduced risk of SIDS. Infants who are exclusively breastfed have an even lower risk than those who are fed by both breast and formula, or those who are exclusively formula fed. Since breastfeeding helps protect infants from illnesses/diseases, it lowers their risk of infant mortality due to diarrhea, pneumonia, and many other ailments. Although it’s possible for an infant to still develop some of these illnesses, if exposed, continuing to breastfeed throughout the duration of the illness will continue to protect the child, and will hinder the severity of the illness.

Breastfeeding also helps promote healthy development, and not just in terms of physical growth, but sensory and cognitive development as well. Exclusively breastfed infants have sharper vision and because breastfeeding reduces the risk of ear infections, they are less likely to have hearing damage caused from the infections. Through studies, breastfed infants have been shown to have higher IQs and a better understanding of language at a young age. The benefits of breastfeeding are endless and have been shown to improve your baby’s health and development in so many areas, and science is still finding more benefits every day!

Although exclusive breastfeeding for six months is the ideal nutrition for any infant, that doesn’t mean breastfeeding has to be all or nothing. Every drop of breast milk a baby receives will benefit him/her well past infancy. Many parents aren’t aware that the lifesaving benefits of breast milk continues throughout adulthood.

If you would like to learn more, the Clark County Health Department offers the Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program for WIC mothers.  For more information, please contact the health department at (859) 744-4482.

Please visit the Clark County Health Department website at www.clarkhealthdept.org. Find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @CCHealthDept