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New breastfeeding guidelines

According to a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), new mothers should be breastfeeding their babies for longer periods of time to gain the many health benefits to both infant and mother. The new policy statement is the first update to breastfeeding guidelines since 1997.

Around 62% of new mothers report that they breastfeed exclusively -- meaning that breastfeeding is the sole form of nourishment for the infant, excluding even water -- at seven days after the birth of their baby. However, this figure drops to just 14% at six months, as many new mothers supplement breastfeeding with other foods or quit entirely by this point.

The aim of the updated AAP guidelines is to stress the benefit of exclusive breastfeeding until at least the six-month mark. All health information related to breastfeeding, including benefits to both mother and child, has been updated to make a stronger case for this.

For infants, breastfeeding provides health advantages that include reduced risk of infectious diseases like bacterial meningitis, respiratory tract infection, and diarrhea. It may also decrease chances of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in infants under one year old. Older children and adults who were breastfed as babies have a lower risk of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and asthma.

But babies who are breastfed are not the only ones benefitting. Mothers who breastfeed also profit through faster post-pregnancy weight loss, lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and possibly a reduced risk of post-menopausal hip fracture and osteoporosis.

The AAP recommendations acknowledge that there can be roadblocks to breastfeeding and offer suggestions for getting around them. Mothers who cannot breastfeed regularly due to a return to work or other time constraints are encouraged to use a breast pump to provide breastmilk for the baby in their absence. There is also an increased emphasis on the education of both parents and the importance of the father's support in what can, at times, be a difficult process.

New parents are reminded that, in most cases, an infant can thrive and develop optimally during the first six months of life through exclusive breastfeeding. A baby being breastfed the appropriate number of times per day -- 8 to 12 feedings every 24 hours for the first few weeks, 8 feedings per 24-hour period afterward -- does not generally need any supplemental food or fluids -- even water. Complementary foods, like those rich in iron, are recommended as a supplement to breastfeeding only after the six-month mark, in most cases. But the guidelines stress that breastfeeding should be continued, along with these foods, for at least the first year of life.

New mothers should check with their doctors to be sure that there is nothing in their health profiles or those of their babies that could make exclusive breastfeeding a health problem. Once the doctor gives a green light for breastfeeding, the updated American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines remind mothers to keep at it, for their health and that of their babies.

March 2005 Update

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