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Anchor Breastfeeding as the Foundation of Life? Does it Matter in the US?

Each year, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) works with numerous global partners to coordinate World Breastfeeding Week. This year, they’ve called for us to anchor breastfeeding as the foundation of life. Hence, they’ve called for more attention on poverty, malnutrition and other factors that most American assume to be “over there” but not here.  So, let’s think about this again.

Food insecurity is real in the United States

Millions of people in the US live in poverty. Sadly, 8 percent of children in the United States are food insecure. That’s 1 in 6 US households that are food insecure. Consequently, children in many of these households go to bed hungry each night, and do not know where their next meal will come from.

Health consequences of food insecurity and undernutrition

Children who are food insecure typically have poorer health. As a result, they are often more malnourished than those that who live in food secure households. They simply don’t have enough of the right nutrients to grow their brains.

Early on, cognitive development lags. Then, later on, they are less likely to perform well in school. Predictably, attachment issues result; they have learned they cannot trust their parents to provide a basic need—food. Later on, they are more likely to have physical problems such as stomachaches, headaches, colds, and chronic illnesses.

If we could anchor breastfeeding as the norm for these children, they would have had the nutrients and bioactive factors to develop a strong brain development and a robust immune system. Breastfeeding can make a life-changing difference. Hence, with education and financial success, breastfeeding can break the cycle of poverty.

Food shortages in times of crisis

Even in times of crisis, such as conflict and natural disasters, breastfeeding is a means to provide nutrition to infants. During hurricanes or typhoons  power is often lost, or clean water is not accessible.

Yet, a mother is still able to feed her child. And, if you lived through Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, or any other disaster here in the United States, you know that such a crisis can and does happen here. Not just “over there.”

Human food for human infants?

All humans, whether they are born in the United States or elsewhere, need to grow their brains. Human milk is perfect for growing human babies. It just makes sense.

Babies younger than 6 months old should be fed only their mother’s milk. Thereafter, foods should be as a complement to their mother’s milk throughout the first year.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), complementary food should be offered:

  • from 6-8 months, only 2-3 times a day.
  • from 9-11 months, only 3-4 times a day.
  • From 12-23 months, 3-4 meals.

Malnutrition: Overfeeding

Most people don’t think about it this way, but over nutrition is also a type of malnutrition.

Childhood obesity and breastfeeding

The WHO does report that children who are exclusively breastfed have lower rates of childhood obesity. And, they are less likely to be overweight or obese later in life. Interestingly, it appears that food insecurity increases the risk for obesity. 

The CDC reports that 13.9% of children ages 2-5 are considered obese. And, 1 in 6 children and adolescents were considered obese. Is it time to anchor breastfeeding as the foundation of life? Indeed, yes, the time has come; we are woefully late.

The financial impact of obesity

Obesity a negative factor on one’s health. And it is costly.  In 2008, the estimated medical cost of obesity was $147 BILLION dollars. Wow.

Breastfeeding is a sustainable food source

Breastfeeding is a natural, sustainable food source. It’s environmentally safe. And, it does not create waste through packaging and production. Further, it does not create pollution. That’s very different from formula.

Producing just over 2 pounds of powdered infant formula, requires over 1000 gallons of water!

Breastfeeding is easier on the family’s budget

Why wouldn’t we anchor breastfeeding as the foundation of life? It’s free! (Or, in the words of words of Jim Akre, “priceless”.) Conversely, the cost of formula is astronomical!

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, if 90 percent of families complied with the recommendation to exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months of life, the U.S. would save $13 billion annually.

Due to breastfeeding, the savings would reflect direct costs (like costs of formula and doctor visits) and indirect costs (like missed wages), including the costs of premature deaths.

Anchor breastfeeding as the norm

Our society will forever be set adrift if we insist on denying what’s going on. Wiping out hunger and poverty isn’t easy. However, when we anchor breastfeeding as the foundation of life, we will make substantial progress. Natural disasters will be with us forever.

But as we learned from my podcast with Dr. Karleen Gribble, breastfeeding can make a critical difference. Further, the financial and environmental impact are not “over there.” They are here.

To eliminate or at least reduce that impact, we need to anchor breastfeeding as the foundation of life.

One big obstacle to anchoring breastfeeding as the foundation of life comes in the form of challenging childcare situations. Parents often experience unsupportive caregivers. Often, that’s because they don’t know the right questions to ask when seeking childcare for their breastfed baby. 

Once you become an Insider (the opt-in page can be found here) you will have access to:

  • What Every Parent Needs to Know About Finding the Right Childcare for Your Breastfed Baby
  • What Every Parent Needs to Know About Breastfed Baby’s Feeding Plan for Childcare

How are you anchoring breastfeeding as the foundation of life?

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  1. Rebecca

    Another huge part of supporting breastfeeding is having maternity leave plans in place. Expecting mothers to exclusively nurse their babies but not providing them with the resources to feed themselves or their other children, and expecting them to go back to work within 12 weeks (of unpaid time off!) is unrealistic. You have families who are already experiencing food insecurity, they can’t afford to take time off work for any reason, and they can’t afford to exclusively pump either (pumps and bags for milk cost money, to pump enough to fully feed a baby takes more time than businesses are required to offer, often there are no supports in place to promote pumping in the workplace at all, etc.). It’s unrealistic to put this responsibility on the mothers in that situation and expect them to “do what’s best for their child” when what’s best is out of their reach through no fault of their own.

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Rebecca, thank you for your clear stance on supporting breastfeeding. I’d just like to point even if there was “paid leave” some women who would not be able to take advantage of it–for any number of reasons. Non one ever talks about this. So, while it may seem like a simple solution, it is only one possible solution.

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