Part I explored why breastfeeding can help curb the childhood obesity epidemic. Part II explores why it’s a huge commitment. It is not easy. Many moms give up because it’s way more frustrating than we expected. If you’ve ever leaked through your shirt in a meeting or at a party, you know what I’m talking about. Ever had mastitis? Shockingly painful. Combine that with a decrease in sex drive. Breastfeeding suppresses ovulation, keeping estrogen levels lower. Turns out that nature’s way of helping us space our births to increase infant survival is also really irritating to couples.
The map below shows the percentage of babies who are at least partially breastfed through six months. These babies may also have had other food, formula and/or water. It does not represent exclusive breastfeeding; those rates are even lower. (Exclusive breastfeeding = only breast milk, no additional food or water.)
Percent of Children Who Are Breastfed at 6 Months of Age, Among Children Born in 2007 (Source: National Immunization Survey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DHHS)
The Healthy People 2020 objective for breastfeeding is to increase the proportion of infants who are breastfed exclusively through six months to 23.7 percent. (In 2006, only 13.6 percent of infants were exclusively breastfed for six months.)
There are some pretty big reasons why women decide to stop breastfeeding, or never start at all, even when they know the benefits. According to the Centers for Disease Control, less than four percent of babies are born at Baby-Friendly™ facilities. A women’s experience and support immediately following the birth of her child can change the course of her infant-feeding practices. Going back to work is another whammy.
We’re going to need a sea change in our cultural practices and attitudes towards nursing for moms to reach the six-month mark. Breast milk continues to be an important source of nutrition beyond six months and even one year. Hopefully, the Surgeon General’s forthcoming call to action will help moms and their networks of support understand why breastfeeding and infant-centered feeding practices are crucial and how they will keep our kids healthier for a lifetime. We know that this has major implications for curbing the epidemic of childhood obesity in the US.
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