The importance of supporting breastfeeding families
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued updated policy recommendations last year that called for more support for breastfeeding parents. The policy encourages longer breastfeeding for infants, stating there are continued benefits for lengthening the duration of breastfeeding.
“In the second year of life, breast milk is higher in protein, higher in fat and recent studies show high concentrations of immunoglobulin in the 12-24-month age range,” says Dr. Jennifer Thomas, a pediatrician at Aurora Health Care and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on Breastfeeding leadership team, the team who wrote the recommendations.
“And for breastfeeding parents, every month they breastfeed improves their own health. It helps prevent diabetes, high blood pressure, as well as breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers,” says Dr. Thomas.
Dr. Thomas says it’s not just about nutrition for infants. “Breastfeeding helps decrease infectious diseases,” she says.
The updated policy recommendations say parents who choose to breastfeed beyond the first year need support from their medical care providers and protections against workplace barriers.
“The biggest takeaway from these updated policy recommendations is that we really need to have systems in place to support new families,” says Dr. Thomas, “It’s one thing for us to say, ‘We’d like people to breastfeed for two years.’ We don’t want to set anyone up for failure. We recommend breastfeeding for two years, but also talk about parental leave policies and steps employers can take to support breastfeeding families, what they can do with setting up the childcare system to help moms who breastfeed.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics says policies essential to supporting families with breastfeeding include:
- Universal paid maternity leave
- The right of a woman to breastfeed in public
- Insurance coverage for lactation support and breast pumps
- On-site childcare
- Universal workplace break time with a clean, private location for expressing milk
- The right to feed expressed milk
- The right to breastfeed in child-care centers
- Lactation rooms in schools
“There is evidence the duration of breastfeeding can make a difference. We want moms to be able to do that, but we all recognized there has to be giant systemic changes in order to make it happen in the United States,” Dr. Thomas says.
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