Breastfeeding Saves Lives

National Breastfeeding Month culminates this week with the celebration of Black Breastfeeding Week.

new study by researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Center for Breastfeeding Medicine highlights a stunning benefit in babies who breastfeed.

In this study, almost 10 million babies from 48 states and the District of Columbia were followed through their first year of life. Babies who initiated breastfeeding were 33% more likely to survive their first year of life. There were some regional differences — Northeast and mid-Atlantic states saw a 44% reduction in infant mortality vs. 21% in the Southeast where fewer mothers initiate breastfeeding — but the effect was consistent throughout the country: breastfeeding saves lives.

The brief take away message is that measures that increase American breastfeeding rates are likely to decrease infant mortality. Cara Murez asked the study’s lead author to explain how:

Breastfeeding “is so protective against many acute and chronic illnesses for infants and children,” said lead investigator Dr. Julie Ware, of the Cincinnati Children’s Center for Breastfeeding Medicine.
Breastfeeding for any amount of time during the first two months reduces incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by up to 40%, Ware said. That figure jumps to 60% if babies are breastfed between four and six months, she added. Among premature infants, breastfeeding also reduces deaths from necrotizing enterocolitis, a life-threatening illness of the intestines.
The benefits are not from nutrients alone or even the skin-on-skin nature of breastfeeding, though those add value, too.
“Breast milk is jam-packed with so many immune protection molecules, bioactive components, that really prime the immune system of the baby,” Ware said. “The immune protection, it’s like a powerhouse inside the breast milk.”

In addition to regional differences, there were ethnic differences documented as well. A Black infant is 2.4 times more likely to die before his or her first birthday in the U.S. than a White infant. Suboptimal breastfeeding is associated with higher infant mortality and likely plays a role in the 2.2 times number of excess child deaths in the Black population compared to White babies.

This important study is worth highlighting during Black Breastfeeding Week. More needs to be done to help ALL American babies and mothers enjoy the health benefits associated with breastfeeding.

Dr. Brian Donnelly has a special interest in breastfeeding. He was the initial recipient of the Allegheny County Health Department’s Breastfeeding Advocacy Award. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and can perform the frenulotomy procedure for tongue-tied infants who have trouble nursing. Dr. Donnelly sees patients at the AHN Pediatrics Northland office. Read more from Dr. Donnelly on The PediaBlog here.

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