As a lay person, I know that breastfeeding is important. As a health educator, I understand that it is something to be encouraged. Before seeing a story about the state of breastfeeding in Vietnam this morning, I knew that breast milk was so health promoting that even smoking mothers were encouraged to do it. The benefits of breast milk outweigh the effect of nicotine or the other chemicals in cigarette smoke.
I did not know that our Healthy People 2010 had established goals for exclusively breastfeeding infants up to three months (60%) and six months (25%). These numbers are similar to global targets put forth by the World Health Organization.
To learn more about Healthy People goals, objectives and progress see link below
We have made a lot of progress in the percent of mothers who EVER breast feed, but not so much with the exclusive or continuous breastfeeding. Breast feeding is encouraged for at least the first year and on through the second year if possible.
The article about Vietnam was eye opening on several levels. The first is that the country’s rate of continuous, exclusive breastfeeding up to six months is only 17%. A real problem in the country is the aggressive marketing of infant formula. Interestingly, the formula makers, even ones from the USA are treating doctors, hospitals, health care workers and clinics in much the same as our drug reps treat them here. They encourage them to promote the formula, through lunches, office furniture and even commissions. It is illegal to do so, but the fines for breach are very low. The economy there is worse than ours and the doctors are paid very little.
The benefits of breastfeeding are not limited to the child. Breastfeeding improves the mother’s health and also is economically beneficial. According to the CDC and other sources, like WHO and UNICEF, the benefits include:
Less risk for ear infections and skin conditions, like eczema, less gastric upset and diabetes, decreased risk of sudden infant death, obesity and chest or lung infections – there is much less risk of chronic disease and diarrhea also - all lowers infant mortality rates
For the mom who breast feeds, there is less risk of diabetes, ovarian and breast cancer
I guess what strikes me the most from exploring this more today is the numbers. Ever breastfeeding numbers have increased throughout the world and this is a fantastic thing. They are high in the US and high in Vietnam - over 75%. The goal for all countries however, is to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. The goal of the US is again, 25% and of Vietnam, 50%. And my most interesting find is that the US rate is at 11% for the continues exclusive up to six months and Vietnam’s rate, the rate that was so alarming as to warrant the investigation on the infant formula companies, is 17%. I guess we need to do a little better oursevles USA.