Benefits of breastfeeding are endless

Aug. 4—This is World Breastfeeding Week. "Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility," is the focus this year, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

"The benefits to the community are endless when a mother breastfeeds her baby," Dr. Sierra Elsey , DNP IBCLC RN BSN BSHS. "When babies are breastfed there are less sick days missed at work, and there are less sick days for the baby, even into childhood."

Elsey is a lactation consultant at AllianceHealth Woodward and just finished her Doctorate of Nursing Practice program with Northwestern Oklahoma State University.

"On a group level, breastfeeding provides more herd immunity to viruses," Esley said. "Breastfeeding promotes positive mental health, thus helping to decrease the cycle that plagues many communities."

According to Elsey, breastfeeding increases the bond between mother and baby, which is a platform for healthier relationships throughout the child's entire life.

"By supporting the breastfeeding, we are helping keep more children out of foster care, and breaking cycles of healthcare disparities and poverty," Elsey said. "We used to just think that the benefits of breastfeeding were only the breastfed infant, but that is just not the case. We know that when women feed babies the way their body was meant to feed them, there are profound health impacts."

The longer a mother feeds her baby, the more benefits she will have, including a reduction in postpartum anxiety and depression, heart disease, heart attacks, breast cancer, cervical cancer and diabetes, according to Elsey.

"There has also been new research on the increased immune response in breastfeeding mothers to viruses, such as COVID-19, influenza and the common cold," Elsey said. "COVID-19 was also an excellent reminder that human milk produces antibodies to protect babies. This means that when mothers had COVID-19 or were exposed to it, their breastmilk produced antibodies, similar to getting a vaccine, that allowed the baby to fight the virus naturally."

In addition to health, breastfeeding saves money and protects the environment, according to Elsey.

"It is the only natural, customized source of nutrition. The breastfed baby generally does not need extra supplementation for at least 6 months, when solids start. It is totally free.," Elsey said. "When a baby is formula fed, the land fills are filled with formula cans, water jugs, and bottles. When more people choose to breastfeed, there is less waste."

While it is very rare for a mother to be unable to breastfeed, there are some cases in which it happens, according to Elsey.

"The first option is to use a pump to express milk," Elsey said. "The next option would be to use donor milk."

The Oklahoma Mother's Milk Bank provides pasteurized human milk available to the public.

"If donor milk is unavailable, then artificial supplementation with formula would be an option," Elsey said. "We are not against formula, we are promoting breastfeeding. Our goal is never to make anyone feel bad. Formula has a place in our society, but we must put aside our feelings, and past experiences to support breastfeeding for our global health."

According to Elsey, breastfed babies have fewer allergies, dermatitis, ear infections, and gastrointestinal problems.

"When babies are fed the way they were meant to be, through human milk, the benefits are endless. There is a significant reduction in viral replication, bacterial infections, and even cancer," Elsey explained. "It is the single most important thing we can do to change the healthcare disparities that plague our society, such as diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disease, and cancer, and promote the health of generations to come."