The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life before introducing nutritious foods. The AAP recently published a report that updates the guidelines to encourage continued breastfeeding, along with solid foods, as long as mutually desired by a mother and child for the first two years (or longer) of a baby’s life.
The report states that breastfeeding goes well beyond providing nutrition and carries over into the relationship between parent and child.
Breastfed children have a decreased risk of numerous illnesses and health conditions, such as ear and respiratory tract infections, asthma, childhood obesity and SIDS. They also show improved dental health and neurodevelopmental outcomes.
Similarly, breastfeeding mothers experience health benefits, such as a decreased risk of breast, ovarian, endometrial and thyroid cancers, hypertension and type 2 diabetes.
But the AAP also acknowledges the stigma, lack of support and workplace barriers that can make continued breastfeeding a challenge.
“Human milk is all a baby needs for the first 6 months of life,” Dr. Joan Younger Meek, lead author of the reports, said in a statement. “Breast milk is unique in its nutrients and protective effects, and really quite remarkable when you look at what it does for a child’s developing immune system. Not everyone can breastfeed or continue breastfeeding for as long as desired for various reasons, including workplace barriers. Families deserve nonjudgmental support, information and help to guide them in feeding their infant.”
The AAP states that medical care providers should support mothers who choose to breastfeed beyond the first year. In addition, the academy also calls for protections against barriers to breastfeeding and pumping breastmilk in the workplace, including the following:
- Policies that protect breastfeeding, including universal paid maternity leave
- Insurance coverage for lactation support and breast pumps
- On-site childcare
- Universal workplace breaks with clean, private areas for expressing milk
The organization states that policies are needed to protect women’s rights to breastfeed in public, feed expressed milk, and breastfeed in childcare centers and lactation rooms in schools.
“Breastfeeding can be challenging for new parents, and support from their families, doctors and work places is essential,” Dr. Meek said in the AAP statement. “The health benefits are vast and can be viewed as a long-term investment not only in a child’s development, but to public health as a whole.”