August is National Breastfeeding Month! The U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) is coordinating a social media advocacy and outreach campaign to build support for the policy and practice changes needed to build a “landscape of breastfeeding support.” The group has adopted a theme for each week: Policy Pulse (Week 1), Special Circumstances & Emergency Preparedness (Week 2), Call to Action (Week 3) and Black Breastfeeding Week (Week 4).
These activities build on the observation of World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), celebrated every year from August 1-7 to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. It commemorates the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990 by government policymakers, WHO, UNICEF and other organizations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. This year’s theme is Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life, highlighting breastfeeding as a universal strategy that levels the playing field, giving everyone a fair start in life.
Breastfeeding has been a performance measure for MIECHV since the inception of the initiative. Performance Measure 2 tracks the success of home visiting programs in supporting mothers—who enroll as participants during pregnancy—in breastfeeding their infants during the first six months following birth.
In 2017, nearly 90% of new mothers participating in FL MIECHV-supported home visiting programs initiated breastfeeding after delivery, and 34% continued for six months or more.
FL MIECHV supports professional development for home visitors to build their skills in supporting breastfeeding mothers. Resources for home visiting staff include a 20-hour Breastfeeding Counselor Course. In 2017 more than 100 home visitors, nurses and community partner staff completed the training. Continuing education is also available through recorded webinars on the MIECHV Learning Management System (LMS) portal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.
According to AAP, this recommendation is supported by the health outcomes of exclusively breastfed compared to outcomes for infants and infants who never or only partially breastfed. Breastfeeding provides a protective effect against respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases, and allergies including asthma, eczema and atopic dermatitis. The rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is reduced by over a third in breastfed babies, and there is a 15 percent to 30 percent reduction in adolescent and adult obesity in breastfed vs. non-breastfed infants.
Breastfeeding also provides health benefits for mothers. Mothers who breastfeed are at reduced risk for breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, retention of pregnancy weight, and possibly hip fractures and osteoporosis in the postmenopausal period.