August is National Breastfeeding Month and August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week!  This year’s theme is “Breastfeeding and Work – Let’s Make it Work!”

What does supporting breastfeeding have to do with Cradle Cincinnati and infant mortality reduction?  Quite a lot, since babies who breastfeed have a 2-4 fold reduction in risk of developing many serious diseases including pneumonia (including that caused by RSV – Respiratory Syncytial Virus, gastroenteritis, and Sudden Infant Death syndrome.  One study estimates that 20% of post-neonatal deaths in the United States (> 1 month and < 1 year) are prevented with breastfeeding.

We know about our serious problem with infant mortality in Hamilton County, but how are we doing with breastfeeding?  The 2014 numbers are alarming.  We remain below the nation’s Healthy People 2020 goals for breastfeeding, and despite many national, regional, and local initiatives to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding, Hamilton County actually decreased breastfeeding initiation among the African American population from 2013 to 2014.  And location matters.  Over 9 of 10 babies in Hyde Park were breastfed initially, but in Price Hill only 1 in 3 babies received any of their mother’s precious and life-saving milk.  Low breastfeeding rates are common in all of our areas of poverty in Hamilton County.

So how does breastfeeding align with Cradle Cincinnati’s 3 S’s (Safe Sleep, Smoking, and Spacing)?  Perfectly!

Safe Sleep – Babies who are breastfed will awaken frequently to feed at night, and when they are close to their mothers in the same room, sleeping supine on a safe sleep surface, without smoking or drinking parents, they have the lowest risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Smoking – Mothers may breastfeed even if they are smokers, but smoking is highly discouraged for general newborn health.  Smoking itself is a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  A recent study found one significant predictor of changes in smoking patterns from pregnancy to postpartum was breastfeeding for 90 days.  Among women who cut back on smoking during their pregnancy, the breastfeeding women smoked far less postpartum than women who breastfed a short time or not at all.  Therefore, breastfeeding support postpartum may enhance smoking relapse prevention strategies.

Spacing – Did you know that mothers who breastfeed exclusively in the first 6 months of life, without return of their periods, have only a 2% chance of getting pregnant?  This has been rigorously studied in clinical trials as a method of birth spacing.  This means that breastfeeding naturally produces increased child spacing for improved return to maternal health.

“Let’s Make Breastfeeding Work!” this August during National Breastfeeding Month.  Let’s start by focusing attention on areas where our mothers are not initiating breastfeeding, and examine the barriers they are facing.  Let’s support them to give their babies this precious gift as they start their lives, and then continue to support them as they go back to work.

As the late James Grant (UNICEF) wrote, “Breastfeeding is a natural ‘safety net’ against the worst effects of poverty. Unless the mother is in extremely poor nutritional health, the breast milk of a mother in an African village is as good as the breast milk of a mother in a Manhattan apartment. So even under the poorest roof, a child who is breastfed . . . is likely to be as healthy and to grow as well as a baby born into a European or North American home. It is almost as if breastfeeding takes the infant out of poverty for those first few vital months in order to give the child a fairer start in life and compensate for the injustice of the world into which it was born.”