"Infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice," says AAP

Photo by: Eloise Smith Photography

“Breastfeeding and human milk are the normative standards for infant feeding and nutrition. Given the documented short- and long-term medical and neurodevelopmental advantages of breastfeeding, infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice,” says the AAP in an article published in their official medical journal Pediatrics late last month. This is sure to ruffle some feathers.

Given that I was on very strong medication from a medical complication when my daughter was just under six months old and couldn’t sustain pumping for the entire duration, I am bummed to hear the new discoveries of just how dramatically breast milk is better than formula. Granted, I was lucky to buy my daughter a few extra weeks thanks to the support of an amazing registered milk donor, and I did realize that breast milk was much more beneficial because I nursed my son until he was two. I just personally get bummed every time new medical evidence reminds me of my daughter’s misfortune. But their article isn’t about me. The AAP’s article wasn’t meant to make me feel guilty. The article is about telling the facts of their most recent findings. I read the study, and now I understand how they can make the claim that infant feeding isn’t just a lifestyle choice.

Granted, the AAP bases their recommendations on studies that can be questioned based on bias due to author affiliation and financial backing, but this article cites 151 references all from various backgrounds with different interests and was written on the findings of their own doctors. In fact, the article even stated that the pediatric cost analysis concluded that if 90% of US mothers would comply with the AAP’s breastfeeding recommendations, there would be a total savings on pediatric care of $13 billion per year. This figure did not include the cost to society of missed work or long term adult health ramifications either. Quite simply, no one has more to gain from this policy announcement than children. TEchnically, pediatricians would lose money if mothers followed their guidelines. Yet, they maintain that from their evidence, a lack of breastfeeding, is indeed a public health issue.

Because of their findings, The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its recommendation that infants should be fed exclusively breast milk for about 6 months. Moreover, they recommend that infants are to be continued to be fed  breast milk as complementary foods are introduced. They suggest that this practice should continue for 1 year or longer. After one year, women should breastfeed as long as breastfeeding is mutually desired by both the mother and the child. They explain their findings in great detail:

  • The risk of hospitalization for lower respiratory tract infections in the first year is reduced 72% if infants breastfed exclusively for more than 4 months.
  • Infants who breastfed exclusively for 4 to 6 months had a fourfold increase in the risk of pneumonia compared with infants who exclusively breastfed for more than 6 months.
  • Any breastfeeding compared with exclusive commercial infant formula feeding will reduce the incidence of otitis media (middle ear inflammation/infection) by 23%.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding for more than 3 months reduces the risk of otitis media by 50%.
  • Serious colds and ear and throat infections were reduced by 63% in infants who exclusively breastfed for 6 months.
  • Any breastfeeding is associated with a 64% reduction in the incidence of nonspecific gastrointestinal tract infections, and this effect lasts for 2 months after cessation of breastfeeding.
  • Breastfeeding is associated with a 36% reduced risk of SIDS.
  • More than 900 infant lives per year may be saved in the United States if 90% of mothers exclusively breastfed for 6 months.
  • The incidence of clinical asthma, atopic dermatitis, and eczema is reduce by 27% in a low-risk population and up to 42% in infants with positive family history.
  • Diabetes mellitus is reported to go down up to 30% for infants who exclusively breastfed for at least 3 months, presumably from avoiding exposure to cow milk protein.
  • Infants who were breastfed for 6 months or longer had a reduction of 20% in the risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia and 15% in the risk of acute myeloid leukemia.
  • Breastfeeding babies is associated with a 31% reduction in inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Infants who breastfed for 3 months or longer exclusively had higher IQ scores and better grades later in life.

And oh how this report goes on and on. There’s way more benefits to breastfeeding than just what I listed. You can read all the details of this article as well as learn of the  many more additional benefits of these findings yourself here.

Please remember, this blog post, like the AAP’s article, is meant to be informative. It is not meant to be a guilt trip. I understand that many factors go into successful breastfeeding as I’ve mentioned in the past and I also understand that some people simply don’t have the breasts for it either.

Special thanks to Amanda Baraugh for submitting her photo for this blog post. Read Amanda’s blog here.

10 Comments

  1. Genevieve

    I wish my daughter’s pediatrician were more supportive of breastfeeding past 1 year. She recommended no solids until at least 6 months and to breastfeed for 1 year but after that said “it is a lifestyle choice and I’m not going to get into it” (my husband doesn’t want me to do so past 12 months). I personally think it is the pediatrician’s job to advocate for children. It is sad to me that they often don’t. Too many of my friend’s doctor’s told them to feed cereal at 4 months!

  2. CLove

    I love your message, I just wish your stats where presented in a “formula fed babies are 30% more likely to __________”, thereby highlighting the risks of formula feeding. Parents are used to not doing the best and getting by with ok. We have to make a point of proving formula to be detrimental and not “ok”.

    Also, the ‘%’ isn’t the same when you reverse the statement. A 25% improvement with breast milk can be a 30% detriment with formula.

    I REALLY like how you mention that this message isn’t meant to make you and other mothers unable to breastfeed feel guilty about, it’s meant to inform those that don’t know the risks of formula (see how I didn’t say the benefits of breast milk).

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