by Dalvery Blackwell
Many moms start with the goal of breastfeeding for only a few weeks, before they know it they are still breastfeeding their babies at 1 year old. Citing the short and long term health benefits and unique emotional connection between mother and baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding (no formula or water) for the first 6 months, and the continuation of breastfeeding (and baby food) to 12months, and “as long as mutually desired by mother and baby”.
For me breastfeeding was always a chance to sit down and relax; I had a break from work, family matters and chores. Breastfeeding can save a lot of time and stress. Oxytocin is a hormone called the “love potion”. It is released during human-to-human contact, such as breastfeeding, and is critical to mother-baby bonding. Research shows breastfeeding moms tend to be more attached to their babies and are less likely to have postpartum depression. Breastfeeding can help reduce risks of certain cancers (breast, endometria and ovarian) too. Fathers appreciate the thousands saved in money for breastfeeding; the average yearly family saving is $1,500. Other benefits for mothers are decreased risk of hypertension, leukemia, and obesity.
Researchers believe that it’s not just the fatty acid in breast milk and the bond between mom and baby that plays a role in boosting brain development. Babies who continue to receive mother’s milk have increased IQ levels. Offering to nurse both breasts allows babies to experience different positions and a chance to engage with mom, look and reach in different directions, which in turns helps exercise the baby’s reach and mind. The immunity benefits improve the longer a baby breastfeeds. The risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and adolescent obesity is reduced. The longer you breastfeed, the less likely your baby is to have some of the illnesses that are caused by not breastfeeding, like asthma and ear and upper respiratory infections.
Even with knowledge about the long-term benefits, African American mothers cut breastfeeding short. According to 2017 WIC data only 5% of mothers are breastfeeding exclusively at 6 months. Mothers desiring to continue breastfeeding into infancy should seek social support. Joining goggle groups, calling lactation consultants or a breastfeeding peer counselor can help in knowing what you are experiencing is normal and common. Moms I have worked with say nursing can sometimes feel like a catch-22 though. Physicians recommend breastfeeding, but friends and family members say not too long because it’s ‘grossly unattractive, unnecessary and unnatural.’ We have to remove the negative stigma associated with breastfeeding. Let’s start by demanding breastfeeding be protected and promoted. Breastfeeding is not a life style choice; it’s an investment in the short- and long-term health of the infants and women. In an Instagram post Tennis Champion Serna Williams said she gets ‘emotional thinking about when she will stop breastfeeding.’ Let’s start praising mothers for public breastfeeding, encouraging them to breastfeed longer and removing the stigma and social trauma mothers feel.
Dalvery Blackwell is a MCJ 2018 Year of the Child: A Game Changer honoree. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and the Executive Director/Co-Founder of the African American Breastfeeding Network. She breastfed her 2 children until they were 3 years old.