Breastfeeding: A Win-Win for Baby and Mother

August is National Breastfeeding Month and August 25–31 is Black Breastfeeding Week—and the importance of the benefits of breastfeeding can’t be overstated. 

According to a recent report issued by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, more than 800,000 deaths of children under the age of 5 could have been prevented by better breastfeeding practices. Studies have also shown that the sooner infants are introduced to breastfeeding—even within the first hour following birth—the lower the risk of mortality.

In fact, many medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, highly recommend breastfeeding infants exclusively for the first 6 months, and continuing breastfeeding for at least a year with other foods.

Breastfeeding among African Americans

Despite its overwhelming advantages, studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that adoption of breastfeeding among African American mothers is fairly low in comparison to White and Hispanic mothers. Between 2011 and 2015, the CDC reported that the rate of women who initiated breastfeeding was 64.3 percent for African Americans, 81.5 percent for Whites, and 81.9 percent for Hispanics.

Research has shown that there are several factors leading to these differences. Often, African American women return to work earlier after childbirth and may be in workplaces that do not encourage breastfeeding. There is also a lack of awareness within the community about the benefits of breastfeeding as well as perceptions of the inconveniences of breastfeeding. In addition, the belief of using cereal in formula feedings to help infants sleep more soundly (and provide parents with additional relief) is widespread. And the sensitivities surrounding public breastfeeding are often seen as a barrier as well.

A plentiful superfood

The reason breast milk is the best nutritional source for infants is that it provides a perfect mix of protein, vitamins, and fat vital for supporting healthy growth. Breast milk also has antibodies that help protect infants against a long list of illnesses and diseases, including infections of the respiratory tract, middle ear, and gut; intestinal tissue damage, allergies, SIDS, celiac disease, diabetes, and even childhood leukemia.

And as if those benefits weren’t enough, studies have also shown that breastfeeding has long-term positive effects on babies’ brain development. Breast-fed babies have exhibited higher intelligence scores and a lower tendency to develop behavioral and learning problems than formula-fed babies. Now that is, literally, food for thought!

Mothers benefit too

In addition to providing the best nutrition and natural health defense for infants, breastfeeding offers a host of benefits for mothers as well.

The most important benefit is the physical intimacy during breastfeeding—an emotionally rewarding experience that helps establish close bonding between mother and child, and allows time for mothers to develop a better understanding of her baby’s cues.

Furthermore, research has shown that breastfeeding may actually help mothers lose weight after the first 3 months, possibly lower the risk of postpartum depression, and help provide protection from breast and ovarian cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes.

And to top it off, mothers get immediate savings in time and money. Breastfeeding helps eliminate or reduce expenses for formula, time spent cleaning and sterilizing bottles, hassles in keeping formula at the right temperature outside the home, and so on.

Learn more now

So how can we encourage greater acceptance and appreciation for breastfeeding among all mothers? As mentioned earlier, August is National Breastfeeding Month and August 25–31 is Black Breastfeeding Week. These links can help you learn more about the critical importance of breastfeeding to the early growth and long-term development of your child, as well as how to manage difficulties in initiating and sustaining a breastfeeding routine.

While breastfeeding may not always be as simple as it appears, and may require some initial guidance and coaching, its numerous benefits far outweigh the challenges. Don’t be shy about reaching out to your doctor or friends and family for help—you and your baby will be the better for it.

Nicola Chin

Nicola Chin

Specializes in Pediatrics

Dr. Chin is a native of Jamaica, West Indies. She attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology for her undergraduate studies and received her medical degree at Temple University School of Medicine. She completed her residency in Pediatrics at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Rhode Island and has practiced for the last twenty years in the Atlanta community. She currently works with Morehouse Healthcare at Howell Mill/ Morehouse School of Medicine.

She has a strong passion for serving children and their families. Over the years, she has enjoyed seeing her patients mature physically, spiritually, and mentally, through their continuous interaction in their wellness visits. In addition, she has a special interest in preventing and counseling on childhood obesity and wellness, as well as managing asthma and ADHD.

Learn more about Dr. Chin.