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World Breastfeeding Week

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Margo Kerrigan, M.P.H., Area Director
Indian Health Service California Area Office

August 1-7, 2007 marks World Breastfeeding Week. This year's theme is "Breastfeeding: The 1st Hour - Welcome Baby Softly," to promote the initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth. Over 120 countries, including the United States, celebrate World Breastfeeding Week.

The Indian Health Service recognizes that breastfeeding should be promoted and supported as a key preventative health measure. Babies, mothers, and society at large all benefit from breastfeeding. Breast milk is a complete form of nutrition for infants. Breast milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein needed for a baby's growth and development, and is easier to digest than formula. As a result, breastfed infants tend to gain less unnecessary weight. This may carry over into adulthood. A number of studies have shown that children and adults who were breastfed are less likely to be overweight compared to those who were never breastfed. Breastfeeding has the potential to help stem the epidemic of childhood and adult obesity in the United States.

Breastfeeding also promotes good health. Breast milk contains antibodies that can protect infants from bacterial and viral infections; formula does not contain these antibodies. Breastfed babies are less likely to be hospitalized for illness than formula-fed babies. Breastfed infants also have lower rates of asthma and diabetes later in life. Research suggests that exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first 4 months is preventive for asthma and other allergies in children. Breastfeeding has also been correlated with a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes in adult American Indians and in Alaska Natives.

By contrast, babies who are not breastfed are sick more often and have more doctor visits. They are more likely to develop a wide range of infectious diseases including ear infections, diarrhea, and respiratory illnesses. The difference in health status is stark: infants who are not breastfed are 21% more likely to die within their first year than breastfed babies in the in the U.S. Some studies suggest that infants who are not breastfed have higher rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the first year of life. The health disparities continue even after the first year; people who were not breastfed have higher rates of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, lymphoma, leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, overweight and obesity, high cholesterol and asthma (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2005).

The benefits of breastfeeding extend to nursing mothers as well. Nursing uses up extra calories, making it easier to lose weight gained during pregnancy. Breastfeeding lowers the long-term risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and possibly the risk of hip fractures and osteoporosis after menopause. Breastfeeding has also been linked with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and the protective effect increases with exclusivity and duration. Exclusive breastfeeding (meaning no supplementing with formula) also delays the return of normal ovulation and menstrual cycles, though it should not be relied upon as a fail-safe form of birth control.

Breastfeeding also makes a nursing mothers life easier; it saves time and money, and is more convenient than bottle feeding. There are no bottles and nipples to sterilize, and no risk of contamination, as there is with formula. A mother can give her baby immediate satisfaction by providing breast milk when her baby is hungry. Breastfeeding requires a mother to take some quiet time for herself and her baby, and helps them bond. Physical contact is important to newborns and can help them feel more secure, warm and comforted. California law protects the rights of mothers to nurse in public, and nursing mothers also have a legal right to break time and privacy to pump milk while at work.

There are some women for whom breastfeeding is not advised. Women who are HIV positive, who have active, untreated TB (tuberculosis), or who are receiving chemotherapy should not breastfeed. Women addicted to illegal drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, or heroin should also not breastfeed, as babies can become addicted. Mothers who smoke should be encouraged to quit as soon as possible, but may still breastfeed, as long as they do not smoke near their infants.


The Indian Health Service has a developmental GPRA measure on exclusive and near exclusive breastfeeding rates among 2 month olds, with the goal of increasing these rates long term. RPMS users can use a PCC Infant Feeding Tool to record infant feeding status; this information is captured in RPMS and extracted by the Clinical Reporting System (CRS). Sites using PCC, RPMS and CRS can monitor the feeding status of their infant population by running CRS reports.

The Indian Health Service uses Healthy People 2010 objectives whenever possible for its GPRA targets. The Healthy People 2010 goal is to have at least 75 percent of mothers breastfeeding during the early postpartum period and 50 and 25 percent breastfeeding at 6 months and 1 year, respectively. In 1998, 64 percent of all mothers breastfed their infants during the early postpartum period. 29 and 16 percent of mothers breastfed their infants at 6 months and 1 year, respectively. This data is for all races; no comprehensive national data on breastfeeding rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives yet exists.

For More Information:

Indian Health Service Breastfeeding Page

California State Breastfeeding Program
http://www.mch.dhs.ca.gov/programs/bfp/ Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

LaLeche League International
http://www.lalecheleague.org/ Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

Centers for Disease Control Breastfeeding Page
http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/ Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

National Womens Health Information Center (DHHS Breastfeeding resources page)
http://www.4woman.gov/Breastfeeding/index.cfm?page=227 Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

International Lactation Consultant Association (can be used to search for an international board certified lactation consultant in your area).
http://www.ilca.org/ Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action
http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/downloads.htm Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

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