By Dan Heyman
August is National Breastfeeding Month, and supporters are touting the benefits of mother’s milk – often called “nature’s perfect baby food.”
Mothers who breastfeed can reduce their risk for diabetes, cardiovascular conditions and some forms of cancer, said Marian Tompson, founder of La Leche League. Babies get a variety of health benefits as well, such as a stronger immune system, better motor development and a reduction in allergies.
“There have been thousands of studies during the past 50 years that confirm babies are healthier when they’re breastfed,” Tompson said, “and it makes sense because they’re getting the food that was meant for their growth and development.”
When La Leche League was founded in the 1950s, Tompson said, fewer than one in five mothers started out breastfeeding her baby. Today that figure is 79 percent nationally, but in West Virginia it’s only about 60 percent. Not all women are able to breastfeed or want to, and it’s a decision to be made by the mother.
While more mothers are starting with breastfeeding and are nursing for longer on average, Tompson said too many still quit in those first weeks or months, often because the moms have to return to work and are separated from their infants.
“I think our culture could do things to make it a little easier for those women, with flex-time, with allowing them to have a baby close by where they could get over to nurse,” she said, “I think we have to appreciate how important breastfeeding is to us all before we’ll see a lot of those changes.”
One initiative already having a positive impact, Tompson said, is the growing number of hospitals in the United States that are gaining certification as breastfeeding-friendly. There now are nearly 200 of them across 44 states.