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Providers Weigh In: ‘Exclusive Breastfeeding’ Can Improve the Health of Babies — and Mom

Friday, August 19, 2016

Patricia Perez
Patrice Perez RN, APN, IBCLC (retired)

Breastfeeding has many benefits for both babies and mother, but according to the World Health Organization (WHO), less than 40% of infants under 6 months of age are exclusively breastfed. Here, a lactation expert explains exclusive breastfeeding and why it’s important for infants’ growth and development.

What is Exclusive Breastfeeding?

The WHO recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed starting within 1 hour after birth through the first six months of their life to promote optimal growth, development, and health.

“Exclusive breastfeeding means that the infant receives only breast milk and no other liquids or solids – not even water is given or needed,” says Patrice Perez RN, APN, IBCLC, a former lactation consultant at UI Health. “Breastfeeding gives babies the best nutrition during the first six months of life. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything an infant needs to grow. Moreover, it contains immune factors and components not able to be duplicated in artificial milk.”

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding lays the foundation for good health for children both in the short and long term. Research shows that babies who are exclusively breastfed for six months are less likely to develop ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory illnesses, diabetes, and develop childhood obesity. One study estimates that globally about 820,000 deaths of children under 5 years old could be prevented each year through more widespread breastfeeding.

Mothers can benefit from breastfeeding, as it can result in reduced uterine bleeding, better uterus shrinkage, weight loss, and less likelihood for postpartum depression. It also has long-term benefits, including reduced risk of breast cancer, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis.

Overcoming Barriers to Breastfeeding

Only about 20% of American mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months. Although the importance of breastfeeding is well understood, there are many social and cultural barriers that make it exceedingly difficult for women to breastfeed.

“Mothers often receive inaccurate or conflicting information, lack lactation support from family members, or are forced to return to work soon after giving birth,” Perez says. “In addition, most new mothers also experience some challenges and common difficulties breastfeeding. They may not have access to help. Mothers should not shy away from reaching out when they need help or have any questions. Advice can come from a nurse, doctor, family member, or friend — and our board-certified lactation consultants are here to help you, too.”

Breastfeeding can be challenging, but UI Health has the resources to help. Visit the Family Birth Place to learn more.