August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week, sponsored by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). The goal is not only to promote awareness of and communication about the importance of breastfeeding for infants and mothers. World Breastfeeding Week includes events in 170 countries to encourage women to breastfeed their children and to encourage governments and societies to give them the freedom to do so in public. With all the cultural constructions surrounding breasts, we sometimes forget that one of their purposes is to feed our babies. Much of the structure of the breasts is dedicated to the production and supply of milk to babies, and they should be used for that purpose. The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous:
- Breastfeeding benefits babies by giving them the nutrition they need at the right time. From the colostrum (early breast milk) that contains additional nutrients and antibodies to help your baby develop during its first days out of the womb to the mature milk that is nutritionally balanced for your baby's needs, breast milk is the best milk for ensuring the healthy growth of your baby
- Breast milk is easier to digest for babies than formula
- Breastfeeding is convenient for mothers
- Breastfeeding is less expensive
- Breastfeeding is good for mother's health
- Breastfeeding helps mothers and babies bond
But the benefits of breastfeeding extend beyond the mother and child. Recent studies have shown that if 90% of US families breastfed exclusively for just six months, 1000 infant deaths could be prevented. That is 2000 children whose lives could be saved every year. And if 90% of households breastfeed for at least six months, US healthcare costs could be reduced by $13 billion a year--that's how much healthier breastfed babies are. And because they are healthier, working mothers need less time off when their babies are breastfed. There are many reasons why women elect not to breastfeed, but they should not avoid breastfeeding out of fear that it contributes to breast sagging. A recent study showed that of all the potential factors linked to breast sagging, breastfeeding was not one of them, and the reason is that by the time a woman is ready to begin breastfeeding--when her baby is born--her breasts have already undergone the structural changes to prepare them for breastfeeding. Whether a woman breastfeeds or not, the full impact it is likely to have on the breasts has been registered. And women who have had breast augmentation should not hesitate to attempt to breastfeed. Breast implants have never been connected with any harm to breastfeeding infants, and breast milk from women with implants contains no more silicon (a traceable chemical in silicone) than breast milk from women without implants. In fact, the level of silicon in breast milk from women with implants is less than that in cow's milk, and less than 1/100th the amount found in commercial baby formula. Platinum is used to polymerize silicone, and it does appear in breast milk, but in its inert, harmless form. During World Breastfeeding Week, we encourage women to remember that breasts are not just for looking good and feeling confident, they are for the feeding and nurturing of children, and if you are expecting or planning on having children in the near future, we encourage you to consider breastfeeding.