Benefits of Breastfeeding: for Society

The numerous benefits of breastfeeding are not limited to mother and baby. On a larger scale, breastfeeding benefits the entire population in many ways.

  • Breastfeeding is 100% natural – there are no plastic bottles, rubber nipples, or formula containers to sit in landfills.

  • Breastfed infants are healthy than babies who were never breastfed. Healthier infants translates to fewer missed work days for employed mothers.
  • Lower medical costs:
    • If 50% of children were exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life, at least $3.6 million in medical expenses would be saved.
    • This number would triple to $13 billion if 90% of children were exclusively breastfed for those 6 months.

 

Despite these proven benefits, there are still social barriers that prevent more widespread breastfeeding.

  • Hospitals that prevent 24-hour rooming-in and provide formula “goodie bags” to mothers at hospital discharge.
    • These practices have been shown to negatively affect breastfeeding outcomes and should be discouraged.
    • Newborns should sleep in the mothers’ rooms rather than in the nursery to help establish feeding schedules and promote mother/baby bonding.
    • Healthcare professionals should not encourage mothers to use infant formula in addition to or in replace of breastmilk within the first 6 months of a child’s life.
    • The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is a program launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to recognize hospitals and birthing centers that implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.
  • Working mothers who return to their jobs after giving birth may encounter obstacles to successful pumping
    • Many work spaces do not have private and comfortable areas where mothers can pump their milk.
    • Some mothers may feel pressure from employers to not take multiple breaks throughout a work shift to pump.
  • Lack of societal support
    • Many mothers feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public and resort to feeding in unsanitary restrooms
    • Breastfeeding is not a sexual act or a public indecency; it is a completely natural and loving act between mother and child. A mother breastfeeding her baby in public should be looked at no differently than a mother feeding her child with a bottle or solid food.
    • Some mothers may feel embarrassed breastfeeding older babies in public, even though there is no upper limit to healthy breastfeeding duration. The AAP encourages breastfeeding at least through the first year of a child’s life and beyond for as long as mutually desired.
    • The Center for Disease Control (CDC) Guide to Breastfeeding Interventions includes a Public Acceptance guide to increase societal acceptance of breastfeeding in both private and public areas.
    • The entire guide can be accessed via the following link: http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/resources/guide.htm

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  • Roger A. Edwards, ScD
    (Principal Investigator)
    Assistant Professor
    Bouvé College of Health Sciences
    Northeastern University

    Phone (w): 617.373.8344
    E-mail: ro.edwards@neu.edu