Much more than a way to save money, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is once again highlighting the fact that breastfeeding newborns has health benefits on both ends of the age-old exchange.
August has been named National Breastfeeding Month, with the international spotlight on the first seven days recognized as World Breastfeeding Week.
Data from the U.S. National Immunization Survey showed that just over 60 percent of women of color chose to breastfeed their babies at some point in 2007. Among them, nearly 30 percent of the moms breast-fed up to six months, and about 13 percent continued until their child’s first birthday. And authorities said the trend is on the rise nationally.
“The percentage of babies breast feeding at six months increased from 35 to 49 percent between 2000 and 2010,” said CDC researcher Jessica Allen. “Right now 77 percent of women are choosing to breastfeed.”
“The benefits for the infant include a decreased risk of infection. There are also long term benefits that include decreased risk of diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases. Benefits for the mother include a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer,” she said.
“The longer a woman breastfeeds, and the longer a child is breastfed, the greater the health benefits,” Allen added, saying that a support system is of high importance when it comes to breastfeeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends breastfeeding for the first year of life, with the first six months of infancy dedicated to “exclusive breastfeeding,” meaning no other foods or formula.
Shantia Torrence, 24, gave birth to her son, Malachi, on July 26. The Baltimore mom says she chose to breastfeed for the positive effects on her baby and her wallet.
“I am giving him natural milk,” Torrence told the AFRO. “I decided to breastfeed because it is a cheaper route to go and it helps me to protect my son from illness.”
Torrence said she plans to breastfeed for 12 months.
“The first time I did it, it did hurt. However, I am used to it now and taking it like a champion,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard for him to latch on and it gets a little frustrating—that’s the only complication I’m having.”
The Journal of Perinatal Education, a peer-reviewed medical periodical that educates on “natural, safe, and healthy birth,” indicated that formula first appeared in 1865, when chemistry whiz Justus von Liebig created a liquid and powdered version of infant food from “cow’s milk, wheat and malt flour, and potassium bicarbonate.”
Until then, women who didn’t directly breastfeed either used another woman’s breast, or milk from other available animals including goats, sheep’s, or donkeys.
“The first nonmilk formula was based on soy flour and became available to the public in 1929,” reads part of the Journal’s “History of Infant Feeding,” published in 2009.
“Currently, infant formula-feeding is widely practiced in the United States and appears to contribute to the development of several common childhood illnesses,” says the report, which cites the development of allergies, as a formula side effect.
Letrice Gant, a 39-year-old Baltimore native, knows both sides of the debate very well.
A mother of three children, two girls and a boy, Grant said she breastfed her youngest daughter up to six weeks, but said formula was used when her prematurely-born daughter had to stay at the hospital, and when she had to go back to work.
“I notice that she was brighter, more alert, more curious, and more aware than the other two,” Grant told the AFRO, of her youngest daughter. She first tried her hand at breastfeeding with her second child.
“I got frustrated during the process and he absorbed my nervousness,” she said. “I wasn’t as confident or determined as I was with my daughter so I gave up because it was painful and I couldn’t get it right.”
Though her second attempt was more successful, Grant said that support was a key part of breastfeeding.