By: Nancy Trout, MD, MPH
It’s a great time to review the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers, babies, and the environment as August is National Breastfeeding Month. This particular year, it is also worth looking at the value of breastfeeding in the middle of a pandemic and precautions mothers can take to do so safely.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and supports breastfeeding as the normative feeding standard.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Children
Children who are breastfed have fewer respiratory tract and gastrointestinal infections. Breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome and chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, and certain types of leukemia and lymphoma. There is emerging evidence of the protective effects of breastfeeding on establishing a healthy microbiome in infants. There are also studies showing that breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of obesity, as breastfeeding allows for greater self-regulation of feeding.
Read more about the benefits of breastfeeding in this article from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Mothers
Mothers who breastfeed are at lower risk for certain breast and ovarian cancers, type 2 diabetes, and anemia. The increased metabolic needs associated with breastfeeding help them return to their pre-pregnancy weight. Breastfeeding also has an extremely small carbon footprint when compared with artificial formula, which creates a tremendous amount of waste and utilizes energy for production and transportation. Breastfeeding is a natural resource and one of the most cost-effective measures for improving maternal and child health.
Breastfeeding Benefits During COVID-19
In addition, there are excellent reasons to breastfeed during the COVID-19 pandemic. First, breast milk is readily available and free of charge. This is especially important during our current health emergency when many parents are finding it challenging to buy formula. While there is no evidence that breastfeeding protects infants from COVID-19, breastfed infants are less likely to get severe respiratory symptoms with other viral illnesses. To date, studies have not found that the coronavirus passes from mother to baby in breast milk.
Breastfeeding mothers who test negative for the virus during pregnancy do not need to take any special precautions, unless symptoms arise. In addition, the AAP recommends breastfeeding even if mothers test positive for COVID-19. In order to safely breastfeed during the pandemic, infected mothers who choose to directly breastfeed should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water or use hand sanitizer, as well as wear a mask while nursing. They should continue with these precautions for at least 10 days from either first showing symptoms or obtaining a positive test result. If mothers who are sick with COVID-19 would rather not be close to their babies to avoid exposure, pumping or hand expressing milk and allowing someone else to feed the baby is an excellent way to provide breast milk and maintain milk supply until the mother recovers.
As part of a comprehensive approach to infant and toddler nutrition and obesity prevention, the Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right (SCOR) program advocates for and gives information about breastfeeding to pediatric practices and community outreach workers in Hartford, as well as to expectant mothers and parents directly.
As National Breastfeeding Month continues, those of us concerned with maternal and infant health must speak out to support and promote breastfeeding as the healthiest infant feeding choice.
Nancy Trout, MD, MPH is a primary care pediatrician and co-director of Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right, which is a childhood obesity prevention initiative of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.
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Categories: Addressing Pandemic Needs