Provide mothers support for their breastfeeding
One of the most effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant is to breastfeed. Breastfeeding has been shown to help boost an infant’s immune system and reduce risk of health problems, including allergies, diabetes, and cancer. Many mothers also report breastfeeding helps them to develop a stronger bond with their baby, and studies show breastfeeding benefits the mother by helping her to lose pregnancy weight, producing hormones that help her to feel more relaxed, and reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Leading health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, recommend breastfeeding for the first 12 months of a baby’s life, but often, mothers can have difficulty achieving this. Although most mothers in the United States hope to breastfeed, only 15 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed six months later.
Mothers who have difficulty breastfeeding aren’t alone. Some new mothers experience low milk supply and worry they aren’t providing enough for their baby. Others feel breastfeeding is painful and they may need help figuring out how to get the baby to “latch on” correctly to avoid pain. Babies have small stomachs and need to eat frequently. Many moms have difficulty finding the time to breastfeed, especially after returning to work.
While ultimately, mothers are the ones who must make the choice about whether to breastfeed, there are steps we can all take to ensure new moms have the support they need to breastfeed their children. The best place to start is by providing a supportive environment for breastfeeding, whether at home, at work, or on the go. Breastfeeding is a natural, normal, and healthy behavior. Babies need to eat, and we need to allow breastfeeding moms the space and respect they need to meet their baby’s nutritional needs.
With support, the success rate among mothers who want to breastfeed can be greatly improved and more babies can receive the important nutritional and health benefits of breastfeeding. Families, friends, communities, clinicians, health care leaders, employers and policy makers can all play a role in helping a mother make the decision to breastfeed, and to help her stick with her choice. Breastfeeding can be challenging, but with help and support, babies and moms can have a healthy start.