Breast Feeding: Personal Choice or Public Health Issue?

Most women of this day and age understand that breast-feeding has benefits – but let’s be honest – it also has its drawbacks.

On the one hand, you’ve got a liquid baby food that’s nutritionally perfect, always available at the right temperature, easily portable and free, to boot. On the other hand, it can cause sore nipples, months of interrupted sleep, and the feeling that you’ve turned into a milk cow – literally.

Given that, and the fact that infant formula is a fairly viable option for many, the question of whether to nurse your baby has become a life-style choice.

But findings from a new cost analysis on breast feeding that were published in the journal Pediatrics and reported on by ABC News may have us all taking a hard look at the practice again.

The findings state that the lives of up to 900 babies could be saved each year if 90% of U.S. mothers breast fed exclusively for the first six months of their infant’s life. Not only that, billions of dollars in lost income and health-related costs could be saved as well.

The numbers of illnesses and deaths that could be averted as a result of breast feeding is staggering. We know that breast milk contains antibodies that fight ear infections, asthma, stomach viruses, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and even childhood leukemia. But it can also fight off childhood obesity and diabetes by lowering the insulin levels in the blood. Wow! Miracle food, indeed!

Today only 12% of American mothers breast feed exclusively for six months. Some moms are not able to continue even if they would like to due to issues of health, work or disability. But for those who can, it may be well worth it to reconsider the enormous benefits that breast feeding has to offer.

And we, as a society, should work harder to make it easier for them to do so by providing safe, clean, convenient spots where nursing mothers can feed their babies or pump their milk.

Then, maybe more moms will be inclined to stick it out for six months or more. Everyone’s a winner if they can! What do you think? Ideas? Suggestions? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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2 responses to “Breast Feeding: Personal Choice or Public Health Issue?”

  1. Elizabeth

    I think one of the biggest barriers to helping mothers reach the six-month breastfeeding goal is the lack of real paid maternity leave for the vast majority of working women. Working full-time and pumping is an enormous struggle. If six months of breastfeeding is a goal we’d like to reach for the majority of infants in this country, then, as a nation, we need to decide how we are going to help women reach that goal. I firmly believe that longer, paid maternity leave is part of the answer.

    I had to go back to work after just 6 weeks because that’s all the vacation and sick time I had banked up. I couldn’t afford to take the other 6 weeks of FMLA because it would have been unpaid. My beautiful baby #3 is still breastfeeding at 9 months, but it hasn’t been easy and there has been a high learning curve for all of us. I think if I had not had the experience of the amazing long-term breastfeeding relationships I was able to develop with my older two children when I was a stay-at-home-mom I would have given up long ago.

  2. Got Milk?

    […] there’s nothing like a swig or two of Mom’s Home Brew. No doubt about it – breast milk is liquid gold for wee ones. But even if you’re an avid breast feeder vying for the title of Best Mom on the […]

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