John and I are huge proponents of breastfeeding. As parents, we have seen the wonderful outcomes and rewards that breastfeeding has provided in our own children. As Registered Dietitians, we know that breastmilk is nature’s most perfect food. Besides the ideal balance of carbohydrate, protein, fat and micronutrients, it contains antibodies specifically obtained from the mother to destroy viruses and harmful bacteria. The benefits of breastmilk extend well into an infant’s adult years and will reduce their risk of ever developing obesity, diabetes or cancer.
August is World Breastfeeding Month and a time to “celebrate” breastfeeding. I participated in the University at Albany School of Public Health’s Breastfeeding Grand Rounds earlier this month. This year’s theme is “Breastfeeding: A Vital Emergency Response”. This is certainly an appropriate theme, especially as we are entering into peak hurricane season here on the east coast and the threat of upcoming H1N1 pandemic flu. What I will remember most from this webinar was the story told by a breastfeeding mother who was displaced during Hurricane Katrina. She spoke of how difficult it was for formula feeding mothers to find formula as well as uncontaminated water or supplies. Also, she spoke of the breastfeeding “heroes” that she witnessed–mothers who stepped in and fed the babies of mothers did not have formula or supplies.
With breastfeeding mothers, there are no worries about formula supplies, storage or contamination. The milk is readily available. Plus, breastmilk protects against diarrhea–which is a huge problem in disaster settings.
With the H1N1 threat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is stressing the importance of breastfeeding for protection against the H1N1 (swine) flu. The CDC states, “Flu can be very serious in young babies. Babies who are not breastfed get sick from infections like the flu more often and more severely than babies who are breastfed.” They are urging new mothers to initiate breastfeeding early (within the first hour of birth) and to feed frequently. Mothers who are breastfeeding should continue, even if they become ill. Formula should be avoided or minimized and breastfeeding maximized.
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine is also recommending for mothers to continue breastfeeding if they have the virus. If an infant is suspected to have H1N1, the infant should continue breastfeeding. They state, “Breastfeeding is generally beneficial in limiting the severity of respiratory infections in infants but information specific to this influenza is currently unavailable. During typical influenza outbreaks, often the infant has been exposed to the virus prior to the mother’s awareness that she has an infection. It is believed that the spread of this particular virus may occur 24 to 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms. Exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age provides optimal protection. The mother who is mixed-feeding (breastmilk plus other liquids or foods) may wish to attempt to increase the amount of breastmilk provided to her infant. If the infant has difficulty with direct breastfeeding, pumped or expressed milk can be provided.”
I know this from my personal experience nursing my daughter. Over Christmas 2003, John, Jonathan and I all contracted influenza. At the time, I was exclusivlely breastfeeding Bayleigh, who was two months old. I was so worried that she would get sick, but continued to nurse her throughout my illness. She stayed healthy and happy while the rest of us were bedbound for days!
Here in Elizabeth City, Jessica Williams, LPN & Certified Lactation Specialist, states: “the unique thing about breastmilk is that every component is used by the infant in some way. It’s the ultimate recipe for a new baby and a new mom. The immunity and vitamins and minerals provided just in the first few days after delivery alone by breastmilk are remarkable! Breastmilk was designed to nuture a baby just as a mother’s womb has the previous 9 months prior to being born”. Jessica teaches breastfeeding classes for expectant mothers and states that just educating moms about the wonderful components of breastmilk sometimes is all they need to get past the “fear of the unknown”.
Jill Overton is an Occupational Therapist and a new mother to a seven week old baby girl. Jill says, “I breastfed my son for a full year and feel that it contributed to him having little to no stomach or bowel upset, severe illness or allergies during that first year of his life. He was as healthy and as strong as could be!”. Breastfeeding is also calming to new mothers, “it allows me a wonderful opportunity to bond and snuggle with my baby during an otherwise chaotic day.”
I think this quote from James Grant, the Executive Director for Unicef from 1980-1995 sums it all up: “Imagine that the World had created a new ‘dream product’ to feed and immunize everyone born on earth. Imagine also that it was available everywhere, required no storage or delivery and helped mothers to plan their families and reduce the risk of cancer. Then imagine that the world refused to use it”.
It’s Your Life. It’s Your Health. Make That Change!