Breastfeeding gives all babies a better chance at a healthy start in life. And, it’s the healthiest and most economical way to nourish a newborn. It’s best for both mom and baby, yet too few women in Arkansas choose to breastfeed.

Better for baby

Breastfeeding has been proven to protect children against multiple illnesses and diseases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Breastfed children have a lower risk of ear infections, severe lower respiratory infections and leukemia. They have a reduced risk of hospitalization in the first year of life and of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Babies who are breastfed have less constipation or diarrhea and fewer stomach upsets. Breastfeeding is very important for infants born prematurely, especially to avoid stomach problems and establish successful feeding.

Breastfeeding provides a life-long health benefit by lowering the risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, asthma and other allergic diseases. Childhood obesity is also lower in breastfed children.

Breastfeeding also establishes the all-important bonding between mother and child. This loving relationship enhances a child’s development throughout life.

The AAP recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months, then adding solids while continuing to breastfeed through the first year. “Exclusively” means the baby receives nothing but breastmilk – no other liquids or solids except for vitamins or medicines.

Experts note that any amount of time breastfeeding, even if it’s only a few weeks, is better for baby and mom than no breastfeeding.

Better for moms

Breastfeeding is better for mothers because it lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, postpartum bleeding, osteoporosis and hip fracture. It helps the uterus return more quickly to pre-pregnancy status. Most moms say it helps them more quickly return to their pre-pregnancy weight. New mothers appreciate the convenience of breastfeeding on demand over preparing and storing formula bottles and following a feeding schedule.

Adults who were breastfed as infants have less risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Less expensive

Families appreciate that breastfeeding is less expensive than buying formula and bottles. American families could save $10.5 billion each year if 80 percent of mothers breastfed exclusively for six months. These savings would come from avoiding direct medical costs, indirect costs such as wages lost while a parent cares for a sick child and the cost of premature death.

Start early

The decision to breastfeed is often made before conception or early in pregnancy. Every mother needs education about breastfeeding so she can make informed choices for the health of her baby. This process begins with her doctor, office nurses and staff. It continues with her choice of a breastfeeding-friendly hospital for delivery, throughout her hospital stay, and the weeks after she and baby return home. Every nursing mother needs the support of her spouse, family, friends, her workplace and the wider community to help her be successful in starting and continuing breastfeeding.

Need for improvement

The AFMC, in partnership with the Arkansas Medicaid program, began a statewide initiative in 2011 to improve breastfeeding rates and duration. Efforts toward improvement are also occurring within the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) Breastfeeding Taskforce and the Arkansas Breastfeeding Coalition. Most recently, the Healthy Active Arkansas report from the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute included breastfeeding as one of its nine focus areas to reduce the state’s very high obesity rate. Breastfed babies tend to have fewer problems with being overweight throughout their lives. Moms who breastfeed tend to lose their pregnancy weight faster than those who don’t breastfeed.

Some Arkansas hospitals are helping to improve breastfeeding rates with these breastfeeding-friendly features:

  • Free childbirth, breastfeeding and newborn classes
  • Contact with lactation consultants during hospital pre-registration/tours
  • Mother and family views “The Magical Hour” (a video illustrating nine stages a baby goes through when held skin-to-skin during the first hour after birth) as part of breastfeeding education (this is recommended by the AAP)
  • Immediate skin-to-skin contact for healthy newborns for at least one hour after birth
  • Helping mothers start breastfeeding within one hour of giving birth
  • Complete rooming-in for healthy newborns so baby can breastfeed on demand
  • Daily rounds by a lactation consultant to show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain their breast milk, even if separated from their infants
  • No formula given to newborns; no formula bags sent home with new mothers
  • No pacifiers or artificial nipples for breastfeeding infants
  • Post-discharge breastfeeding support that includes phone calls, follow-up visit and referral to community breastfeeding support
  • Hospital-based breastfeeding support groups
  • Hospital adoption of a comprehensive written breastfeeding policy
  • Comprehensive, continuing and required staff education about breastfeeding, including annual testing and skill competencies

Community Resources

Early in pregnancy, it is important to promote the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program’s many benefits: healthy foods for pregnant women, nutrition education and referrals to other services.

A new statewide Arkansas Breastfeeding Help Line is available to pregnant women, breastfeeding moms and healthcare providers. Available free, 24 hours, seven days a week, the local number is 501-202-7378 or statewide toll free at 800-445-6175. Sponsored by Baptist Health and the ADH, registered nurse lactation consultants staff the line. They provide support and accurate information about common breastfeeding concerns, such as is baby getting enough milk, are medications safe to take while breastfeeding, managing breast or nipple pain or using a breast pump.

Work and community friendly

Arkansas law (Act 621) requires employers to provide unpaid break time to express breast milk. Employers must make reasonable efforts to provide a private, secure and sanitary room, close to the work area where an employee can express breast milk. Women who breastfeed their child in a public place are protected from interference by Act 680.

In addition to workplace rights, many retail and commercial establishments provide comfortable places for their patrons to breastfeed.