Could 6 Months of the Boob Save Lives?


Since the days of La Leche and “Breast is Best” campaigns, women have been told repeatedly that breastfeeding an infant can give him or her a better start in life.  But a new study from the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts presents the idea that breast feeding could in fact save lives, as well as a great deal of money in medical costs.

Each year, more than 900 preventable child deaths occur in the United States because too few mothers follow breast-feeding recommendations, a new study has found.

Child health problems associated with poor breast-feeding compliance cost the country $13 billion a year in direct health-care costs and indirect costs, such as missed time from work, according to the researchers at Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts.

Of the 911 deaths per year cited in the report, 95 percent were infants and resulted from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), lower respiratory tract infections

(such as pneumonia), and necrotizing enterocolitis, which is a disease that occurs primarily in preterm infants.

The study was published online April 5 in the journal Pediatrics.

According to the study, breastfeeding reduces the risks of many potentially fatal illnesses, many of which are common in pre-term babies.  But is the study finding that these ill children are worse off because they do not breastfeed? Or are these children not breastfeeding because they are already compromised?

Many of the illnesses identified above are associated with pre-term birth, which is associated with a host of respiratory issues.  Many of these issues also make it more difficult for a baby to feed via the breast.  Although mothers can begin pumping breast milk, it can be much more difficult to bring up a sufficient and sustainable milk supply using just a pump.  This study also appears to assume that there were no factors during labor that may have stalled the arrival of the milk supply.  And of course, the stress of an ill child can also cause milk supply issues.

Breast feeding is of course an excellent way to help a baby start out and should be encouraged and supported as much as possible.  However, studies that try to correlate lack of breastfeeding with an increased rate of infant mortality may do little more than precipitate guilt in women who may not be able to breastfeed due to health or other issues.  We should be able to find a way to encourage breast feeding through education, better family leave plans and office flexibility, or better postpartum care, rather than using scare tactics.

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  • squirrely-girl

    However, studies that try to correlate lack of breastfeeding with an increased rate of infant mortality may do little more than precipitate guilt in women who may not be able to breastfeed due to health or other issues.”

     

    I can definitely appreciate your perspective on this but in the interest of playing devil’s advocate, are scientists just supposed to NOT do this research because it MIGHT make SOME women “feel bad”? In my experiences, far too few women breast feed and it’s not always because they aren’t “able” to. There are some GREAT recent studies looking at the role of self-objectification and body dissatisfaction with regard to breast feeding out there. Honestly, moms are going to feel guilty about SOMETHING no matter what we do. :)

     

    “We should be able to find a way to encourage breast feeding through education, better family leave plans and office flexibility, or better postpartum care, rather than using scare tactics.”

     

    I think it would be GREAT if we could encourage breast feeding through these other means, but part of education IS research (what else would we be educating people about?) and I think it’s a bit short-sighted to dismiss research to be a scare tactic…

  • jesskm

    These were exactly my thoughts.  Are we really going to argue that women are unable to handle factual information?

     

    Perhaps if we stopped thinking about infant feeding as simply a matter of personal choice and understood the health risks involved we’d better be able to argue for more “education, better family leave plans and office flexibility, or better postpartum care…”

     

    And let us not forget that breastfeeding does not confer “benefits”.  Breastfeeding is the biological norm.  Not breastfeeding confers “risks” to mom, baby, and society as a whole.  One would say that breastfeeding is beneficial in much the same way one would say not smoking or drinking clean water are beneficial.  Diane Wiessinger has a great little article on that topic here: http://www.motherchronicle.com/watchyourlanguage.html.  She also has a lot to say on the topic of “guilt”.

     

    For additional reading I would suggest _The Politics of Breastfeeding_ and _Milk, Money, and Madness_.  You think that those who want to outlaw abortion are misogynists?  Wait until you check out the commercial baby milk industry…..