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Why Breastfeed?

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Why Breastfeed?

Why is breastfeeding central to the health of Latino infants, their mothers, families, and the future vitality of the U.S.?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continuation for at least the first year after birth. The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented. Optimal breastfeeding (6 months exclusive) is associated with:

  • Lower risk of otitis media and gastrointestinal infection,
  • Lower levels of hospitalization for lower respiratory tract diseases in the first year of life,
  • Decreased incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS),
  • Lower rates of Type 2 diabetes mellitus,
  • Lower levels of necrotizing enterocolitis for preterm infants,
  • Reduction of breast and ovarian cancer in mothers who breastfeed,
  • Lower levels of Type 2 diabetes mellitus and hypertension in mothers who breastfed, and
  • Improved cognitive development in children, which can improve future educational outcomes.

Increasing the rates of breastfeeding in Latinas ensures Latino children have the best start in life and improved chances for the future.

Breastfeeding also has sizable economic benefits. A pediatric cost analysis found that “If 90% of U.S. families could comply with the medical recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, the United States could save $13 billion/year and prevent an excess 911 deaths annually…”  

Aggregate national data demonstrates that Latinas overall have higher rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration than the general population. However, these rates differ among Latina subgroups. For example, breastfeeding initiation and duration rates are lower among Puerto Rican mothers living in the United States in comparison with other U.S. Latina mothers. In addition, while breastfeeding initiation rose by 3.4% points for Whites and 9% points for blacks between 2000 and 2008, there was only a 2.4% point increase among Hispanics during that same time period.

Latinas initiate breastfeeding at very high rates (80%+) which demonstrates their understanding of the importance of breastfeeding and their desire to provide the best for their baby, but only 16.4% are able to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months.  In other words 4 out of 5 Latinas start breastfeeding BUT only about 16% of Latinas are able to meet the national recommendation of 6 months exclusive.  A national survey of Latina mothers with a child age 5 or younger found that 61% believed that breastfeeding was the healthier choice, but named barriers like the lack of support from their health care provider and easy access to formula as reasons why they didn’t meet their breastfeeding goals.

2012 Breastfeeding Rate (National Immunization Survey)

Demographic % Initiate BF % Exclusive BF at 6 months
NATIONAL 76.8 17.1
Non-Hispanic White 78.6 18.4
Non-Hispanic Black 61.8 13.2
Hispanic 80.3 16.4
MEXICAN 82.1 14.2
MEXICAN/AMERICAN 80.6 17.6
CENTRAL AMERICAN 82.2 14.9
SOUTH AMERICAN 91.6 15.7
PUERTO RICAN 71.9 14.4
CUBAN/AMERICAN 90.6 14.6
SPANISH CARIBBEAN 85 14

Breastfeeding has been linked to a reduction of diseases like Type 2 diabetes, which impacts Latinos at almost twice the rate as non-Hispanic whites. Latinos have higher rates of end-stage renal disease, caused by diabetes, and they are 40% more likely to die from diabetes as non-Hispanic whites

For mothers who breastfeed there is a reduction of breast and ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes mellitus and hypertension.  For children optimal breastfeeding is associated with lower risk of ear and gastrointestinal infection, lower levels of hospitalization for lower respiratory tract diseases in the first year of life, and decreased incidence of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome.)  Breastfeeding has also been shown to improve cognitive development in children, which can improve future educational outcomes.  

 

While breastfeeding offers us some insight into the larger arena of Latina maternal and child health, we recognize that the lack of Latino specific interventions is not limited to breastfeeding. One can speculate that because of the relatively good birth outcomes among Mexican Americans, there has been insufficient investment in maternal and infant health services for Latinas in general and even less specific interventions for non-Mexican American Latino sub-groups. This phenomenon may be supported by the same structural barriers that have led to disinvestment in African American maternal and infant health. The consequences of this disinvestment could have similar dire outcomes for the health and well-being of the Latino community, and the U.S. as a whole. Addressing public policy solutions, offers us a way to correct the structural barriers that impeded proper support of Latinas.

What are the Benefits of Breast Milk?

Optimal breastfeeding (6 months exclusive) is associated with:

For the baby

  • Lower risk of otitis media and gastrointestinal infection,
  • Lower levels of hospitalization for lower respiratory tract diseases in the first year of life,
  • Decreased incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS),
  • Lower rates of Type 2 diabetes mellitus,
  • Lower levels of necrotizing enterocolitis for preterm infants,
  • Improved cognitive development in children, which can improve future educational outcomes.

For the mother

  • Reduction of breast and ovarian cancer in mothers who breastfeed,
  • Lower levels of Type 2 diabetes mellitus and hypertension in mothers who breastfed, and

For the family

  • Facilitates bonding

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For the community

  • Cheaper – no cost for formula and no need for clean water
  • Less pollution generated by the production of formula
  • Less chance of contamination from bacteria