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August marks National Breastfeeding Month in the United States, which has been celebrated annually since 2011. According to the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, this month is a time to “celebrate mothers and lactating parents and work to protect, promote and support breastfeeding and human milk feeding.”
Most babies born in the U.S. start their lives breastfeeding, but many families do not end up continuing to breastfeed for as long as they intended to.
Breastfeeding can have many benefits for moms and babies. Read on to learn more.
Most babies start off their lives breastfeeding, but with many barriers to moms and babies – from a lack of social and workplace support, problems lactating and social stigmas – many families do not continue to breastfeed as long as they had planned.
“Helping families establish and maintain a successful breastfeeding journey is a large focus at Providence that begins at the first prenatal visit and continues throughout the early years of life,” says Andrea Caivano-Reed, a lactation consultant at Providence St. Joseph Hospital. “Learning to breastfeed takes time and requires ongoing support. By accessing early prenatal breastfeeding education, support in the hospital and support after returning home, parents will be more likely to succeed with breastfeeding.”
First recognized in 2011 by the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, National Breastfeeding Month is a time to help shift the conversation around breastfeeding by celebrating breastfeeding families and working to protect, promote and support breastfeeding in the U.S.
Why celebrate National Breastfeeding Month?
For National Breastfeeding Month 2023, the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee is honoring the theme “This is our why,” to recognize why breastfeeding is so important as well as the stories of the mothers, babies and families who need support to effectively breastfeed.
The committee is also recognizing specific observances during August which focus on breastfeeding support for underserved families, including:
- World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7)
- Indigenous Milk Medicine Week (August 8-14)
- Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Breastfeeding Week (August 15-21)
- Black Breastfeeding Week (August 25-31)
- Lactancia Latina (September 5-11)
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated its guidelines for infant feeding to reflect World Health Organization guidelines. The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, then continued breastfeeding with complementary foods until at least two years or beyond, as long as mom and baby wish to continue. Honoring this month is important as more than 83% of babies are breastfed when they are born, but under 56% are at six months of age. And, less than a quarter of babies are exclusively breastfed as recommended by these guidelines.
The benefits of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding helps babies get nearly complete nutrition straight from their mothers (though some babies may need supplemental vitamin D). Staying with breastfeeding can have many benefits for moms and babies. These include a lower risk of:
- Ear infections
- Stomach bugs
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Type 1 diabetes
Breastfeeding mothers can also benefit, including reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes.
In addition to these benefits against disease, breastfeeding can also help moms and babies bond together through increased skin-to-skin contact.
Supporting an equitable future for breastfeeding
The National Institute for Children’s Health Equity recognizes that gaps in resources and support mean that there are wide disparities for breastfeeding moms based on race, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation and ability. The American Academy of Pediatrics also called for greater breastfeeding support for Black mothers in particular.
Health care providers, including caregivers across Providence, are available to help new mothers be successful in starting – and continuing – to breastfeed, including:
- Handling and storing breast milk
- Help finding and using breast pumps
- Lactation support, including lactation consultants
- Weaning guidance
“All our Labor and Delivery and Mother-Baby Unit nurses are specially trained in breastfeeding,” Caivano-Reed says of Providence St. Joseph Hospital Orange. “Lactation consultants are also available daily to assist with more extensive infant feeding needs. Within a few days of discharge, infants are seen at the Mother Baby Assessment Center to ensure the infant is continuing to thrive. Additionally, families have access to ongoing breastfeeding support through thrice weekly breastfeeding workshops and private lactation consults by appointment.”
Andrea Caivano-Reed, lactation consultant at Providence St. Joseph Hospital.
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