Women's Health

Women's Health

Since the 1990s, HealthLINK has been providing Yale-New Haven patients with informative and cutting-edge information as our experts comment on news ranging from teething to heart failure. HealthLINK: Women's Health examines subjects of most particular concern to female patients of all ages — heart health, exercise, pregnancy, depression, menopause, osteoporosis and more.

Women's Health

July 2010

Breastfeeding saves lives and money, provides necessary nutrients

If most new moms would breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life, it would save nearly 1,000 lives and billions of dollars each year, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The World Health Organization says infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life "to achieve optimal growth, development and health." The WHO is not alone in its recommendations.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

Yale-New Haven's Robin Murtha and Cathy Stubbs discuss the myriad of ways in which breastfeeding helps an infant, both physically and mentally.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all agree that breast milk alone is sufficient for newborns and infants until they are six months old.

However, a 2009 breastfeeding report from the CDC found that only 74 percent of women start breastfeeding, only 33 percent were still exclusively breastfeeding at three months and just 14 percent were still exclusively breastfeeding at six months.

"The United States incurs $13 billion in excess costs annually and suffers 911 preventable deaths per year because our breastfeeding rates fall far below medical recommendations," the report said.

One of the study's co-authors Melissa Bartick, MD, instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a mother of two, says the vast majority of extra costs incurred each year could be saved "if 80 to 90 percent of women exclusively breastfed for as little as four months; and if 90 percent of women would breastfeed until six months."

Bartick and her co-author Arnold Reinhold found that most of the excess costs are due to premature deaths. Nearly all (95 percent) of these deaths are attributed to three causes: 1) sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); 2) necrotizing enterocolitis, seen primarily in preterm babies and in which the lining of the intestinal wall dies; and 3) lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of all of these and seven other illnesses evaluated by the study authors.

Bartick estimates that, in addition to the overwhelming and incalculable pain and suffering involved in the loss of a child, $10.56 million for each of the approximately 911 children who died was also lost. Researchers also included the direct costs of health care and parents time missed from work. They did not include the cost of formula, which is another added cost for moms who don't breastfeed.

There are a lot of factors contributing to low breastfeeding rates in the United States, and Bartick says moms shouldn't be blamed, because they receive mixed messages and often lack support from the moment their babies are born. She says the biggest priority should be to improve maternity care practices. Bartick says some hospitals delay immediate urgent skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby, which can make things harder for the newborn to act on his or her natural instincts to suckle.

Moms also need to be better educated about the importance of breastfeeding and they need adequate support after they leave the hospital in case they run into problems because the newborn isn't properly latching on and therefore not getting enough food.

Benefits of breastfeeding

By Robin Murtha, MSN, APRN, IBCLC
and Cathy Stubbs, RN, CN III, IBCLC

Babies benefit immensely from breastfeeding. Breast milk provides essential amino acids and nutrients necessary for babies' growth and development. Colostrum, the first food provided by the breast in the first three days is so valuable it is often referred to as "liquid gold." It is generally yellow from the large amount of vitamin A it contains. Colostrum may be the first food, but it is also called the first vaccination due to the important antibodies provided from the mother.

Breast milk is far easier for babies to digest than formulas. Breast milk changes to meets babies' growing needs offering critical immune system support. Formula manufacturers try to replicate the nutrients found in breast milk, but so far, formula is no match for nutrient-rich breast milk.

Babies are wired for breastfeeding. Skin-to-skin contact after birth keeps a new baby warm, and helps the baby to find its mother's breast. Babies use their sense of sight, touch and smell for locating the breast, and are born with reflexes to help latch and breastfeed. Consider expert advice from a certified lactation consultant or lactation specialist before heading home to help ease the uncertainty of breastfeeding. These specially trained health professionals have met specific education requirements and have passed an international board certified exam. Certification is renewable every five years, but only if ongoing educational criteria has been met. Before leaving the hospital, learn what you can from the nurses and lactation specialists. They can provide new moms with basic breastfeeding education and expert support, making the breastfeeding experience better for both moms and babies.

Research has shown that bonding between mother and baby is enhanced when a mother chooses to breastfeed, creating a special closeness. As this study indicates, maternity practices need to support new moms with minimal separation from baby. At the hospital, keeping an infant in the same room as the mother is important. The baby benefits from frequent breastfeeding and parents are able to become more confident in what their baby needs. As recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), exclusively breastfeeding for at least six months should be the emphasis and supported by maternity care practices. Breast milk is an infant's main source of nutrition for the first year. Solid food is introduced after six months to complement breast milk. Maternity services can help by supporting exclusive breastfeeding, avoiding the use of formula unless medically necessary and avoiding pacifier and bottle while at the hospital.

The AAP also recommends breastfeeding for a year or more, so long as it is mutually desired by mom and baby. Breast milk continues to benefit a baby's immune system after the first year, as the immune system is still immature and continues to develop. When mothers go back to work, breastfeeding may easily continue at home. Pumping helps to maintain a mother's milk supply while at work. Many states (including Connecticut) have a law that requires businesses with 50 or more employees to provide a clean, private room and reasonable time for pumping in order to protect and support the decision to breastfeed. This law was based on several studies like this one that indicates mothers lose less work time due to child illness when their baby is breastfed. Once out of the hospital, a new mom who encounters breastfeeding difficulties may see a certified lactation consultant at a pediatrician's office. Some lactation specialists work in private practice and may be referred by your pediatrician.

Robin Murtha, MSN, APRN, IBCLC and Cathy Stubbs, RN, CN III, IBCLC are certified lactation consultants at Yale-New Haven Hospital as specified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners.

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