This week is World Breastfeeding Week. Breastfeeding is a great gift for babies and their families. As a pediatrician caring for thousands of babies over the past 40 years, I have seen the great nutritional, immunologic and bonding advantages of breastfeeding. As I have assumed public health responsibilities, I also see the great public health benefits of breastfeeding, locally and throughout the world.

The statistics on breastfeeding are impressive, especially in the developing world. Infant mortality for breastfed infants is lower than for formula-fed infants, likely due to the immunologic benefits and the ability to avoid contaminated drinking water.

It is estimated over 500,000 infant deaths could be avoided in the developing world if all babies were breastfed. In the United States, the mortality differences are smaller, but still exist, with a lower death rate in breastfed babies.

Given the great medical and social benefits, the small additional costs for breastfeeding and the avoidance of the costs of formula, breastfeeding should be the preferred option for almost every baby. Breastfeeding for all could be one of the most effective and cost-effective approaches to reducing infant mortality and improving child health.

We can all help moms to be more successful in breastfeeding their babies:

  • Be supportive of women who want to breastfeed. New moms are often exhausted and a kind word or doing a chore for a new mom can be greatly appreciated.
  • Support breastfeeding education in doctor’s offices, in the birthing areas and through community groups. The message should be that almost all women can be successful in breastfeeding, although some will require a little help from lactation educators.
  • Recognize that breastfeeding is a wonderful and natural thing. Shaming or making moms uncomfortable for breastfeeding in public is really inappropriate.
  • Provide an inviting place for women to breastfeed or to pump milk. Oregon now requires workplaces to have lactation rooms and provides time for breastfeeding moms to continue to breastfeed or pump milk. This has been a great help for breastfeeding moms. As employers, we should be fully supportive.

World Breastfeeding Week is a great time to thank all of those moms who have given their babies the gift of breast milk and to thank all of those who help in this great effort.

Bob Dannenhoffer is the director of the Douglas Public Health Network.

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