Breastfeed your baby, save the planet. It's a nice mantra for the eco-conscious times we live in. And it's true: More nursing means fewer bottles and formula cans to produce, ship and then dispose of.
But there's another, perhaps more important, reason to breastfeed: Mother's milk means fewer infections and allergies for your little one, plus a lower risk of asthma. It also reduces the risk for two of today's top issues in children's health—obesity and type II diabetes. Breastfed children may even get a leg up when it comes to IQ. You get real health benefits as well, including a quicker return to your prepregnancy weight and a reduced risk for breast and ovarian cancers.
With these benefits, it's no wonder more American women are nursing today than 15 years ago. Consider the numbers: In the early 1990s, slightly more than half of U.S. women initiated breastfeeding; 18 percent were still at it six months later. As of 2004 (the latest year for which figures are available), 74 percent nursed their newborns at birth and 42 percent were still breastfeeding at 6 months. By baby's first birthday, 21 percent were still going strong.
But considering that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding through at least the first year, those numbers just aren't good enough, says pediatrician Todd Wolynn, M.D., FAAP, IBCLC, executive director of the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh.
Wolynn says more women would breastfeed longer if they had an easier time pumping at work, and he's working to convince employers that helping new moms return to a workplace that makes pumping easier is good for business: The employee is more productive and more satisfied and takes fewer sick days because her baby is sick less often.
Good for the environment, good for baby (and you), good for business: Sign me up!
Tips for Success
Your body was made to breastfeed, but that doesn't mean you were born knowing how to do it. These guidelines will help you master this skill.
1. Plan ahead: Tell your partner, family and friends that you intend to nurse your baby, and ask for their support. Make sure your pediatrician is pro-breastfeeding. Take a class. Find out if your hospital is breastfeeding-friendly (check out babyfriendlyusa.org for a list of certified organizations). If it isn't, does it have lactation consultants on staff 24/7?If not,interview lactation consultants before your due date so you have someone to call if problems erupt(visit llli.org or ilca.org).
2. Watch another mom nurse: "It's hard to learn to ride a bike without seeing someone else do it," say Babes for Breastfeeding founders Bettina Forbes and Danielle Rigg.
3. Go for skin-to-skin contact: Doing so immediately after delivery will help trigger your newborn's urge to breastfeed. "Whisking away the baby to be cleaned and evaluated for a prolonged time is a relic of the 1930s and '40s," Wolynn says. In fact, the AAP recommends that the baby be put on the mother's chest and cleaned and evaluated there, so the first feeding can happen right away.
4. Don't wait to get help: "Day 4 or 5 is when troubles come up," Wolynn says. "If it's going well at this point, it will typically continue to. But if problems do occur, you're more likely to give up if you don't have support."
5. Do your best: "Some breastfeeding is better than none," says Wolynn. "Listen to your baby and feed early and often in the first three to seven days to establish a good milk supply." Then, if you just can't breastfeed exclusively, you and the baby can acclimate to a nursing schedule that works for the two of you. For that all-important immune protection, he adds: "Going past 2 months of age is an important milestone."
6. Know your rights: Thirty-nine states have laws guaranteeing women the right to breastfeed in any public or private location. Some states even have laws that protect a woman's right to pump at work.