For the first time in a decade, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has made several updates to its breastfeeding guidelines in an update policy statement.
The updated AAP guidelines now align with the guidelines put in place by the World Health Organization (WHO) and many other international guidelines.
What are the new recommendations for breastfeeding?
Among the most important updates is the recommendation that a child should be breastfed for up to two years, extended by one year.
Mallory Ward, certified doula, childbirth educator and owner of Doula based on evidence says it is important to note that breastfeeding does not only include breastfeeding directly, but also feeding expressed breast milk.
The AAP update was spurred by evidence that breastfeeding for the past 12 months has benefits for both mother and child.
“Breastfeeding not only provides optimal nutrition for most babies well beyond infancy, but is also linked to physical and mental health benefits for both mothers and babies,” says Ward.
For the mother, studies have also shown that breastfeeding for more than 12 months can reduce the rate of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer and ovarian cancer in the mother.
For babies, breast milk contains antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, immunoregulatory agents and live leukocytes, all of which help in the development of their immune system. Additionally, research has shown that breastfeeding is linked to lower rates of lower respiratory tract infections, severe diarrhea, ear infections, and obesity. Breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome, as well as other protective effects.
The new AAP policy recommendation also calls for more support for breastfeeding families from healthcare professionals and in the workplace. Specifically, the guidance recommends policies that address the right to breastfeed in public and the right to breastfeed in child care centers and school lactation rooms.
According to Ward, about 85% of mothers leave the hospital to breastfeed their newborns, but this rate drops dramatically during the first month of life and continues to drop during the first 6 months.
“This tells us that the vast majority of people want to breastfeed their baby, but lack the support or resources to continue the practice beyond the first few months – which is usually when maternity leave ends and the other social and logistical factors,” explains Ward.
Ward says that without these laws, women are exposed to discrimination and sometimes even harassment.
Insurance coverage is another crucial policy area that the AAP sees as necessary to support breastfeeding. According to the guidelines, coverage should extend to pumps and lactation assistance.
Ward says these updated guidelines couldn’t have come at a better time.
“As breastfeeding rates continue to decline and the United States faces an infant nutrition security crisis, calls for increased awareness and systemic protections for breastfeeding are critical,” she says.
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