A woman sitting in a hammock breastfeeds an infantShare on Pinterest
Experts say breastfeeding has health benefits for both the infant and the mother. Léa Jones/Stocksy
  • A pediatrician organization has issued a new set of recommendations on breastfeeding.
  • The recommendations include exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months after an infant is born as well as continued breastfeeding up to 2 years and beyond along with appropriate complementary foods.
  • They also call for more support for women who breastfeed, especially at work and school.
  • Experts say breastfeeding strengthens an infant’s immune system, making them less likely to develop illnesses.
  • They add that breastfeeding also has health benefits for mothers, including weight loss and a lower risk of certain diseases.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued new recommendations for breastfeeding.

In it, they say Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life before parents can begin adding complementary nutritious foods to their baby’s diet.

The AAP views breastfeeding as a public health imperative. The new recommendations include:

  • Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life
  • Continued breastfeeding for up to 2 years and beyond if mutually desired by mother and child along with the introduction of appropriate complementary foods.
  • Hospitals and birth centers instituting maternity care practices that improve breastfeeding initiation, duration, and exclusivity
  • Support from medical professionals and employers for mothers who choose to breastfeed after the first year
  • Policies that protect breastfeeding include universal and paid maternity leave, and the right to breastfeed in public, in the workplace, and at school as well as insurance coverage for lactation support and breast pumps, and on-site childcare.

Experts do note that mothers returning to work and school might find continuing to breastfeed difficult.

“I recommend pumping at work/school as close to your feeding schedule when you were at home. All schools and businesses must provide lactating moms space and time to pump,” Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline. “Before going back to work, mothers can pump as much milk as possible to have as much supply as possible. Breastmilk lasts four hours at room temperature, four days in the refrigerator, and up to 12 months in a freezer, although it is best to use it within six months.”

White, Hispanic, and Asian women are more apt to breastfeed than Black mothers, according to the 2018 National Immunization Surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). Other groups include:

  • Lower-income women
  • Women younger than 20
  • Women with a high school education or less

The AAP believes that society must address implicit bias, structural bias, and structural racism before we see better health and well-being for children.

Breastfeeding supplies your baby’s nutrient needs and strengthens a baby’s immune system.

Other benefits of breastfeeding include decreased rates of:

  • Colds and respiratory infections
  • Severe diarrhea and constipation
  • Ear infections
  • Obesity
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

The benefits of breastfeeding continue throughout a child’s life.

They are less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

They have lower rates of breast cancer.

Breastfeeding doesn’t just benefit infants.

It also can help mothers lose weight after giving birth, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

It can also assist the uterus in returning to pre-pregnancy size. Mothers who breastfeed typically have fewer urinary tract infections, less chance of developing anemia, and less risk of postpartum depression.

“Long-term breastfeeding is associated with protection against diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancers of the breast and ovaries,” says Ganjian.

Most mothers can safely use birth control right after giving birth, even hormonal methods, such as some birth control pills, shots, and implants, according to Planned Parenthood.

“Most women don’t ovulate if they are nursing more than six times per day,” Dr. Tara Scott, the medical director at Forum Health, told Healthline. “But you can’t assume that is enough. I recommend contraception when indicated.”

There are some women who should not breastfeed. They include:

  • Women with HIV or AIDS
  • Women taking antiretroviral medications
  • Mothers who are taking chemotherapy drugs
  • Mothers undergoing radiation therapy
  • Women with active tuberculosis
  • Women infected with human T cell lymphotropic virus type I or II
  • Mothers who are using illegal drugs

But for anyone who can breastfeed, “I can’t think of any disadvantages,” says Scott.

Some parents do have issues to overcome with breastfeeding, especially in the beginning.

“For many parents and babies, establishing breastfeeding/chestfeeding might require time and support. If you are struggling, get help,” said April N. Grady, RN, BSN, IBCLC, a lactation coordinator in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in California.

She notes there are many free resources available. Among them are the La Leche League, Nursing Mothers Counsel, and support groups in hospitals.

Several other organizations have lactation consultants who can provide one-on-one guidance to parents.

“It is important to feed on-demand, with your baby’s earliest feeding cues,” Grady told Healthline. “Watch your baby for increased alertness or movement, rooting and suckling, or bringing their hands to their mouth. Do not wait until they are crying or give pacifiers to lengthen the time between feedings. Crying is a late sign of hunger and makes breastfeeding much harder.

“Remember,” she adds, “you and your baby are both learning a new skill, and for baby, it is much harder to learn when they are very hungry.”