More Mothers Should Learn Merits of Breast-Feeding

Healthnotes Newswire (February 22, 2007)—A new study has found that despite much publicized research and clear recommendations from such organizations as the American Academy of Pediatrics, many people believe that formula is just as good as breast milk. It isn’t.

Breast milk is the best milk

“Children who are not breast-fed are at increased risk of respiratory infections, ear infections, diarrhea, necrotizing enterocolitis [a serious intestinal disease], undernutrition, delayed cognitive development, and childhood overweight,” said Ruowei Li, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and lead author of the new study. “Despite the many known benefits of breast-feeding, breast-feeding rates in the United States are lower than in most nations.”

The benefits of breast-feeding for children and mothers are significant and widely accepted. Human breast milk contains the optimal balance of nutrients for an infant’s growth and developmental requirements. Breast milk is also rich in substances that protect babies against infectious diseases. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other major US health organizations recommend that, when possible, infants be exclusively breast-fed for at least the first six months of life and then breast-fed in combination with complementary foods for at least the next six months.

Word still needs to spread

Despite these recommendations, according to the 2004 National Immunization Survey, only 71% of American children had ever been breast-fed. At 6 months, only 14% of infants were exclusively breast-fed and only 36% were breast-fed to any extent at all. At 12 months, the percentage of babies receiving any breast milk dropped to 18%. African Americans and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups had even lower breast-feeding rates.

The new research offers a possible explanation for these low rates. The percentage of people in agreement with the statement, “Infant formula is as good as breast milk,” increased significantly from 14.3% in 1999 to 25.7% in 2003. Heavy marketing of new infant formulas may be fueling this perceptual shift. The US Government Accountability Office estimates that spending on infant formula advertising grew from approximately $29 million in 1999 to more than $46 million in 2004, with an even higher peak in 2003.

The researchers point out the need for widespread education to raise the awareness of new mothers; there is currently no government-sponsored program for this purpose. “It is important to develop a strong and comprehensive strategy to educate parents, families, and healthcare professionals on the benefits of breast-feeding and the risks of not being breast-fed,” Dr. Li concluded. “This strategy should be directed toward members of the general public who have the most negative attitudes toward breast-feeding as well as toward women who have the lowest breast-feeding rates.”

(J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107:122–7)

Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.

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