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AUGUST POPULATION HEALTH FOCUS: Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is the August 2020 UPMC Western Maryland population health focus.

What health benefits does breastfeeding give my baby?

The cells, hormones, and antibodies in breastmilk help protect babies from illness. This protection is unique and changes every day to meet your baby’s growing needs. Research shows that breastfed babies have lower risks of:

  • Asthma
  • Leukemia (during childhood)
  • Obesity (during childhood)
  • Ear infections
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Lower respiratory infections
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in premature babies, or babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Type 2 diabetes

What are the health benefits of breastfeeding for mothers?

Breastfeeding helps a mother’s health and healing following childbirth. Breastfeeding leads to a lower risk of these health problems in mothers:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain types of breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

How does breastfeeding compare to formula feeding?

Formula can be harder for your baby to digest. For most babies, especially premature babies (babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy), breastmilk substitutes like formula are harder to digest than breastmilk. Formula is made from cow’s milk, and it often takes time for babies’ stomachs to adjust to digesting it.

Your breastmilk changes to meet your baby’s needs. As your baby gets older, your breastmilk adjusts to meet your baby’s changing needs. Researchers think that a baby’s saliva transfers chemicals to a mother’s body through breastfeeding. These chemicals help a mother’s body create breastmilk that meets the baby’s changing needs.

Life can be easier for you when you breastfeed. Breastfeeding may seem like it takes a little more effort than formula feeding at first. But breastfeeding can make your life easier once you and your baby settle into a good routine. When you breastfeed, there are no bottles and nipples to sterilize. You do not have to buy, measure, and mix formula. And there are no bottles to warm in the middle of the night! When you breastfeed, you can satisfy your baby’s hunger right away.

Not breastfeeding costs money. Formula and feeding supplies can cost well over $1,500 each year. As your baby gets older he or she will eat more formula. But breastmilk changes with the baby’s needs, and babies usually need the same amount of breastmilk as they get older. Breastfed babies may also be sick less often, which can help keep your baby’s health costs lower.

Breastfeeding keeps mother and baby close. Physical contact is important to newborns. It helps them feel more secure, warm, and comforted. Mothers also benefit from this closeness. The skin-to-skin contact boosts your oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is a hormone that helps breastmilk flow and can calm the mother.

Sometimes, formula feeding can save lives. Very rarely, babies are born unable to tolerate milk of any kind. These babies must have an infant formula that is hypoallergenic, dairy free, or lactose free. A wide selection of specialist baby formulas now on the market include soy formula, hydrolyzed formula, lactose-free formula, and hypoallergenic formula. Your baby may need formula if you have a health problem that won’t allow you to breastfeed and you do not have access to donor breastmilk. Talk to your doctor before feeding your baby anything besides your breastmilk.

Society benefits overall when mothers breastfeed.

Breastfeeding saves lives. Research shows that if 90% of families breastfed exclusively for six months, nearly 1,000 deaths among infants could be prevented each year.

Breastfeeding saves money. Medical costs may be lower for fully breastfed infants than never-breastfed infants. Breastfed infants usually need fewer sick care visits, prescriptions, and hospitalizations.

Breastfeeding also helps make a more productive workforce. Mothers who breastfeed may miss less work to care for sick infants than mothers who feed their infants formula. Employer medical costs may also be lower.

Breastfeeding is better for the environment. Formula cans and bottle supplies create more trash and plastic waste. Your milk is a renewable resource that comes packaged and warmed.

Whether you are a new or an experienced mother, our lactation consultants at UPMC Western Maryland Breastfeeding Services are here to assist and answer your questions about breastfeeding. We provide support by increasing your confidence and teaching you the basic skills of breastfeeding before you and your newborn head home. For more information, please call 240-964-6417 or visit https://www.wmhs.com/services/breastfeeding-services/.