An article in today's news poses the question: can you still reap the benefits of breastfeeding if you're only doing it part of the time?
The article cites a study showing exclusively breastfed babies have fewer and less severe infections as infants and that partially breastfed babies may not enjoy these protective effects.
Many women approach breastfeeding thinking that it is a natural process and all should flow smoothly. But for many women it's not that simple. It's easy to get stuck in the mindset that breastfeeding must be an all-or-nothing process.
Mothers that exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life provide significant benefits to their infants. The CDC states that one million deaths could be avoided each year if babies were exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months.
Does that mean it should be an all-or-nothing effort? Not at all.
Any breast milk a mother can provide to her infant is beneficial to them both. Exclusive breast milk feedings for the first six months provides the optimal benefits to both mother and baby. Human milk contains infection fighting cells, there at least 50+ known immune factors. The milk a mother makes is perfect for her child by providing nutrients and antibodies the baby needs.
We have the evidence to support exclusive breastfeeding and the majority of mothers I encounter want to do just that. But we cannot underestimate the challenges that occur for breastfeeding families. Challenges include the return to work as well as the cultural perception that formula feeding is the norm. Feeding human babies human milk should be the norm and should be supported by our culture. Mothers returning to the work force need to be given reasonable break times and a place to express their milk.
We are headed in the right direction with more focus than ever on breastfeeding, including radio advertisements, public service announcements and recent changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Research indicates that exclusive breastfeeding is best for mom and baby. If there are challenges that keep you from attaining your goal, please seek support of a certified lactation consultant and remember that any breastfeeding is better than no breastfeeding.
Manager of Childbirth and Lactation Services
Texas Health Resources