August is National Breastfeeding Month, dedicated to the defense and promotion of breastfeeding.
This year’s theme is Together We Do Great Things, in recognition that healthy communities cannot be achieved by one person alone and that all members of the community must support the people within.
Breastfeeding begins during pregnancy as the body and brain prepare to feed the baby. This is the time for the mother to learn how to breastfeed and develop a support network. The local WIC program can help by referring families to certified baby-friendly hospitals and healthcare providers who support breastfeeding.
Additionally, our local WIC program offers breastfeeding classes and counselors are available to answer questions about their breastfeeding experience. The more the future family learns during the pregnancy, the more they will be prepared for the arrival of the baby.
Pregnancy is also a time for the expectant mother to talk with her partner and family, friends, healthcare providers and employers about goals to create a plan that meets their family’s needs. Breastfeeding has many benefits for both mother and child.
- Breast milk is nutritionally ideal for infants. It’s safe, clean, and contains antibodies that help protect against many common childhood illnesses.
- Breastfed infants have reduced risks of gastrointestinal infections, ear infections, respiratory diseases, asthma and childhood obesity.
- Breastfeeding also has health benefits for mothers, including a reduced risk of ovarian cancer, certain breast cancers, and type 2 diabetes, as well as faster recovery after childbirth.
- Breastfeeding may be more convenient. Breastfeeding can be done anywhere, with fewer supplies to pack and no hassle getting milk to the right temperature.
- Breast milk is always the right level of nutrition because it changes during growth as the baby’s needs change.
- Because breastfed babies may be sick less often, doctor visits and health care costs may be lower.
- Breast milk is a renewable resource and breastfeeding reduces packaging waste.
- Physical contact is important for newborns to feel comfortable and bond with the caregiver. The oxytocin that is released through skin-to-skin contact calms the mother and helps reduce the flow of breast milk.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life, which means only breast milk and nothing else, not even water.
Appropriate foods can be introduced after 6 months, while the baby continues to be breastfed until at least 12 months.
Breastfeeding can be practiced for as long as it is comfortable for both mother and child, while introducing the child to a wider variety of foods.
Mothers who would like to breastfeed sometimes stop early due to lack of ongoing support from the community or employer. The WIC program also provides materials that explain state laws related to breastfeeding, which is protected by law wherever you need it, including workplaces.
Breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn’t always come naturally. It can take time and patience to learn what works best for a mother and her baby.
Mothers may have concerns or experience difficulties, which can be helped by a strong support network. Good nutrition for the mother helps support her ability to produce plenty of milk and WIC can help by providing nutrition education and healthy food packages.
For mothers who are having difficulty breastfeeding and still want their baby to enjoy the benefits of breast milk, WIC can also loan breast pumps to those who are eligible.
To access all information about the WIC program and available support for families, please call 1-877-795-0646 or visit https://www.nchd.org/wic.
Rachel Shwayder is a junior COVID communications specialist with the Northeast Colorado Department of Health.