By Sharon Marshall Taylor
With every New Year, millions of people stop and reflect on what they can do to improve their personal well-being and that of others. More often than not, the focus is health. "Health is your wealth," is an adage passed down throughout the ages. In keeping with that old proverb, if you are planning to have a new infant join your family in 2015, I suggest making an investment in breastfeeding with the goal of nursing for at least one year. The year in the life of a breastfeeding family is enormous; its impact is generational and it is definitely a return on investment in health.
Additionally, breastfeeding is not just a parenting decision, but it's also an important public health issue that saves lives. A 2010 study found that if 90 percent of American families breastfed exclusively for six months, the United States would save $13 billion annually and prevent more than 900 infant deaths a year.
Breastfeeding epitomizes multitasking, the required skill of the 21st century. This one behavior is beneficial for mom, baby and the community. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends "exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby's life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age. After that, mothers are encouraged to continue breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby." Breastfeeding has many benefits for baby, including lowering the risk of ear infections, asthma, childhood obesity, and gastrointestinal ailments.
The benefits aren't just for your newborn - breastfeeding has many benefits for moms, too! Breastfeeding can help mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster while also lowering her risk of Type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and cardiovascular disease. The good news is that the longer a woman sticks with breastfeeding, the greater the risk reduction. And there are even benefits when mothers return to work. Women who breastfeed are less likely to call out sick because their babies do not get sick as often. Breastfeeding also results in stress reduction with the release of the coveted "feel-good" stress-reducing endorphins. How great is that?
There are lots of ways you can make breastfeeding part of your life and promote it in your community. To begin, here are five suggestions:
1. Educate yourself and those around you about the benefits of breastfeeding
Build a community that supports breastfeeding by nursing in your local park, library, shopping center and house of worship.
2. Ask if your employer has a breastfeeding policy or would like assistance in galvanizing co-workers around a supportive environment for nursing mothers, including the identification of a clean private space for pumping that is not a bathroom.
The Affordable Care Act has provisions that support breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. Research what that means for you in your borough. Through the Affordable Care Act you may also be eligible for help with breastfeeding at no cost.
3. Help your partner determine their exclusive role in parenting your baby.
Breastfeeding is a team sport. Supportive partners increase success and duration of breastfeeding.
The birth partner's role can include burping the baby after the feeding, swaddling the baby before the feeding, putting together and washing the breast pump and storing pumped milk, and taking care of other children and household tasks while mom is breastfeeding. A partner's most important role is that of cheerleader and champion - letting mom know that she can overcome any challenges relating to breastfeeding and shouting out her achievements to family and friends.
4. If you see a breastfeeding mother in public, give her words of encouragement and support.
"That's so cool that you breastfeed!" goes a long way for mother who may feel anxious about feeding in public.
5. Enjoy the process — the baby's needs will change as they grow.
It evolves from frequent feedings, to downtime for both of you a few times a day. Feel comfortable letting go of all of your other "to do's" and have the satisfaction that you are doing the best for your little one, yourself, and your family!
Sharon Marshall Taylor is the Program Manager of the Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone, a three-year NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Kellogg Foundation-funded effort to make breastfeeding the norm in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville. Sharon is a long-time maternal and child health expert and practitioner with over 15 years in designing, implementing and evaluating public health programs for low-income communities of color. As a Guyanese-American who breastfed her three daughters, Sharon has direct insight into the opportunities and challenges facing breastfeeding mothers and families. If you would like more information about this program or how to promote breastfeeding in your community, please contact Sharon at email@example.com.