The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated their guidelines around breastfeeding, now supporting continued breastfeeding until two years or beyond, as mutually desired by the mother and child. Breast milk is and always has been the most optimal source of nutrition for a growing baby, and if breastfeeding is an option for the mother, that is the top recommended practice for giving babies the nutrients they need.
August represents National Breastfeeding Month, a time to raise awareness about the importance of breastfeeding. As the U.S. continues to face a shortage in infant formula, and with the AAP’s updated guidelines, it’s of the utmost importance now for mothers to be informed on the many benefits of breastfeeding for both their babies and themselves.
The Importance of Breastfeeding
The World Health Organization (WHO) actively promotes breastfeeding as the best source of nourishment for infants and young children. Breast milk is specifically formulated for optimal nutrition for a newborn. The composition of breast milk changes to match a baby’s needs as it grows and its nutritional requirements change. Babies also receive immune support from the antibodies provided in breast milk, as breast milk offers immunity in the early stages of life before a baby can receive vaccinations. In fact, studies found that breast milk of mothers vaccinated for COVID-19 carry antibodies against the virus.
In addition to the ample amount of health benefits, breast milk is economically favorable. Due to an infant’s changing routine, many find breastfeeding to be the most convenient feeding option due to the ability to breastfeed anytime, anywhere. Breastfeeding can help lift financial burdens associated with feeding as it offers a free, nutritional food source for babies.
Additionally, breastfeeding creates a special bond between mother and baby because it promotes skin-to-skin contact. Many experts say the bonding experience during the first years of life helps lessen social and behavioral problems in both children and adults. Breastfeeding even burns extra calories and helps many mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight. If a new mother has questions about breastfeeding, they can turn to health plans for answers, like CareSource. CareSource provides critical information and resources to assist mothers and families, pays for lactation consultants that can provide members with prenatal education and postnatal assistance with breastfeeding, and provides all mothers with a breast pump and supplies.
Disparities in Breastfeeding
Despite the AAP recommending breastfeeding, national rates remain low, especially among minority groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows racial and ethnic disparities in breastfeeding initiation continue to persist. Low rates of breastfeeding add more than $3 billion a year to medical costs for mothers and their children in the U.S., per the CDC. Additionally, three quarters (76%) of Black infants are ever breastfed, which is below the national average of 84%. Indiana is one of 26 states where the breastfeeding initiation rate was lowest among infants of Black mothers. It’s important to consider the root causes of disparities in breastfeeding, including historical trauma, access to care, provider bias and promotion of formula by manufacturers. Culturally appropriate education, increased breastfeeding support and diverse representation within health care should be encouraged and implemented in order to increase awareness of the importance of breastfeeding and help remove these barriers.
CareSource encourages mothers and expecting mothers to learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding, especially as we continue to see a short supply of infant formula. Health plans like CareSource can provide access to case management workers who connect mothers to resources in their community. Additionally, mothers can utilize CareSource24, a 24-hour Nurse Helpline, to ask questions and get advice. CareSource has also recently partnered with The Milk Bank, sponsoring 1,000 ounces of human milk through their Give an Ounce campaign. The gift is part of a larger effort to increase access to adequate infant nutrition during the formula shortage.
Breastfeeding is more than just a lifestyle decision; it’s an investment in health for both mothers and their infants, reducing health risks like asthma, obesity, diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), breast cancer, ovarian cancer and more, according to the CDC. It’s critical to advance the support, protection and promotion of breastfeeding so all families have the opportunity to breastfeed.