Carolyn Williams-Orlando Ph.D. discusses the importance of breastfeeding and urges the development of health policies to support mothers.

by Carolyn Williams-Orlando Ph.D.

Many rich countries deliver free prenatal and postnatal care to mother and child, knowing that this is good preventative medicine and decreases healthcare expenses. Pregnant women may receive free prenatal care, childbirth classes, prescriptions, delivery, and postnatal care. This free postnatal care may take the form of home visits from a nurse or a midwife, whom may support you in nursing your baby, or even in doing household tasks such as washing the laundry, or cooking a meal. Most importantly, this postnatal care includes a salary from the government to a mother (or father) who wishes to stay home and raise their child (Reid 2009). A salary from the government to stay home and raise a child makes for both good economic and good health sense in a Nation.

These reasons take the form of both physical and psychological health to both mother and child. Importantly, the ability to stay home supports breastfeeding, and there is excellent evidence that breastfeeding decreases the risk of many diseases in children and women. In the child, breastfeeding is associated with decreased risks for: otitis media, respiratory tract infections, atopic dermatitis, allergy, gastroenteritis, type 2 diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome, necrotizing enterocolitis, obesity and hypertension (James 2009; CDC 2007; Turck 2005). 

For women, breastfeeding is associated with reduced risks of breast and ovarian cancers, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and postpartum depression (James 2009; CDC 2007; Turck 2005). Furthermore, breastfeeding allows for emotional bonding and may reduce stress on both the mother and the infant, increasing psychological health. Breastfeeding is an important public health strategy for improving infant and child morbidity and mortality, improving maternal morbidity, and helping to control health care costs (James 2009). 

Our government designed Healthy People 2010 (HP2010), a set of health objectives coordinated by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP).  One objective of HP2010 is to increase the proportion of mothers who breastfeed their infants. However, HP2010 has determined that something more needs to be done, as rates of exclusive breastfeeding among infants born in 2004 were below targets.  Specifically, rates of breastfeeding were significantly lower among African American infants as compared with European American infants, and infants born to unmarried mothers as compared with married mothers. Older age, urban residence, higher education, and higher income of mothers were all found to be positively associated with breastfeeding (CDC 2007). Breast milk’s nutritional values offer many advantages over cow’s milk or infant formulas. Maternal HIV infection is a contraindication to breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is evidenced to help alleviate exactly what is plaguing American women today. A government salary to women in the U.S.A. who wish to stay home with their babies, for one year, would promote breastfeeding, helping to meet the national objectives of HP2010, assist in the prevention of diseases of women and children, and decrease our overall health care costs.



References

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Breastfeeding trends and updated national health objectives for exclusive breastfeeding–United States, birth years 2000-2004. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2007; 56(30): 760-3.

James DC and Lessen R. Position of the American Dietetic Association: promoting and supporting breastfeeding. J Am Diet Assoc 2009; 109(11): 1926-42.        
  
Turck D. Breast feeding: health benefits for child and mother [Article in French]. Arch Pediatr 2005; 12 Suppl 3:S145-65.