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January 5, 2015 - Kim Moore [see other posts]

Circles of Hope

2015 Newborns--the Right Start is Breastfeeding

The first babies of 2015 are pictured in the local newspaper and, in some communities, special gifts are provided by and through the local hospital to the family lucky enough to have that first-born of the year (maybe to compensate for missing the tax deduction for last year). I wish the stories asked the parents one more question beyond the minutes and hours of the birthing experience and the weight and height of the newborn. It is a question that will determine much about the future health of that baby: will you be breastfeeding for at least six months?

I am always aware that I enter a discussion about breastfeeding with a serious handicap -- I am a male. In addition to not being able to hear female voices very well, I have not and never will breastfeed a baby. I have not experienced the barriers to breastfeeding in our culture, especially in the workplace. I have not had to organize my life to match the needs of feeding an infant. Yet, I am proudly and passionately an advocate for having our babies and mothers receive the benefits of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is one of the few health behaviors which is better than "whole wheat sliced bread" (my own expression).

"Infants who are not breastfed experience more episodes of diarrhea, ear infections and lower respiratory tract infections and are at higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes and obesity. Breastfeeding also helps protect mothers from breast and ovarian cancer."

This excerpt from The CDC Guide to Strategies to Support Breastfeeding Mothers and Babies only begins to capture the benefits of the natural and low cost approach for feeding our youngest humans.

If you have never read or thought much about breastfeeding, you may not be aware that breastfeeding struggled in the 20th Century to be the dominant practice for feeding babies. There is a long history about why this has occurred in American society and in much of the world:

It involves the rise of low-cost formula and an incorrect view of formula as the better food for babies (rather, there are health risks associated with formula feeding). The increased presence of women in the workforce created challenges in maintaining breastfeeding; accommodations for nursing mothers were frequently not considered. A generation of women in the post-WWII climate moved to a middle-class behavior of formula feeding and passed on that legacy as grandmothers and other senior female advisors to succeeding generations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends "...exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant." In Kansas, we have good initiation rates (mothers who start breastfeeding) at 72.9%, but Kansas breastfeeding rates decline rapidly to 41.8% at six months and even further if you ask for exclusive breastfeeding (no other food) at 6 months (15.1%). [Source: CDC National Immunization Survey] We can and should do better for all the Kansas babies born in 2015 and later.

United Methodist Health Ministry Fund is actively supporting breastfeeding work in Kansas. We will again this year offer an opportunity for Kansans as individuals and groups to join us through our Impact Funding Team to provide critical financial support for local breastfeeding initiatives and programs. My hope is that readers who are grandmothers, mothers-to-be, fathers and grandfathers (if they listen as well as talk), business leaders, health professionals, early educators, and other family and friends of young parents will spread the word: breastfeeding for at least six months is the right thing for healthy babies and moms.

To learn more about what can be done to improve breastfeeding rates, go to http://cdc.gov/breastfeeding and http://www2.aap.org/breastfeeding. For counseling messages for new mothers, check out http://www2.aap.org/breastfeeding. The Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition maintains considerable information about Kansas specific breastfeeding program and local resources: http://ksbreastfeeding.org. Businesses can easily make accommodations for breastfeeding moms and benefit their current and future workforces - see information from the Kansas Business Case for Breastfeeding at http://kansasbusinesscase.com.