OBOS Home Page
Home  I  About Us  I  Programs  I   Publications  I  Blog  I  Donate Now
Health Resource Center

The First Year of Parenting

Breastfeeding Your Baby

I didn’t breast-feed my first daughter. I was a new immigrant, I wanted to be like the Americans. Do I feel bad about it? Yes. Do I keep beating up on myself? No!! We have to get beyond our personal issues. I go up to women in the street who are breast-feeding and I say, “Great job!” And when women aren’t breast-feeding, I say “What went wrong? Call me next time!” We need to help each other out on this one.

Breast milk is the best food for babies.1 It provides exactly the right balance of nutrients, adapting to your baby’s changing requirements. Breast milk helps strengthen the infant’s resistance to infection and disease. Not breast-feeding is associated with a higher risk of the child developing many short-term health problems and chronic conditions, including ear and lower respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal problems, Type 1 diabetes, leukemia, and other childhood cancers.2 Breast-feeding also has health benefits for the mother, the most impressive of which is a greatly reduced incidence of breast cancer.3 Some studies show that women who breast-feed two years or more have half the rate of breast cancer than women who do not breast-feed.4 For premature infants, or infants with conditions such as Down syndrome, the anti-infective properties of breast milk are especially beneficial.

Studies show that most women in the United States want to breast-feed but that practical barriers, early difficulties, and misinformation often jeopardize our success. In countries such as Sweden and Norway--where about 98 percent of mothers begin breast-feeding and 70 percent are still breast-feeding after six months--social acceptance, supportive hospital practices, and extended maternity leave all contribute to helping women achieve their breast-feeding goals. Unfortunately, in other developed nations, including the U.S., society’s influences are different, and breast-feeding rates are low, especially among poor and minority women.5 In the early 1970s, only 22 percent of women in the U.S. began breast-feeding their infants. By 2001 rates had risen to 70 percent, but only 46 percent of all babies received exclusively breast milk in the hospital setting.6 Worldwide, over eighteen thousand hospitals have earned the WHO/UNICEF “Baby-Friendly” designation for supportive breast-feeding practices, but in 2004 only forty-two of those were located in the U.S.

In developed countries in particular, where formula feeding is common, many of us do not have the wisdom and support of other women to help guide us in breast-feeding our child. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast-feeding for approximately six months, then adding solids at six months, with continued breast-feeding to a year or beyond.7 The WHO recommends that children be exclusively breast-fed for six months, with breast-feeding continued two or more years.

Excerpted from the 2005 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, © 2005, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.
1. Work Group on Breastfeeding, American Academy of Pediatrics, Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, Pediatrics 100, no. 6 (1997): 1035-39.
2. B. Duncan, J. Ey, C. J. Holberg, A. L. Wright, F. D. Martinez, L. M. Taussig, Exclusive Breast-feeding for at Least 4 Months Protects Against Otitis Media, Pediatrics 91, no. 5 (1993): 867-72. See also Work Group on Breastfeeding, Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk; E. J. Mayer, R. F. Hamman, E. C. Gay, D. C. Lezotte, D. A. Savitz, G. J. Klingensmith, Reduced Risk of IDDM Among Breast-fed Children: The Colorado IDDM Registry, Diabetes 37, no. 12 (1988): 1625-32;  S. M. Virtanen, L. Rasanen, K. Ylonen, et al., Early Introduction of Dairy Products Associated with Increased Risk of IDDM in Finnish Children: The Childhood Diabetes in Finland Study Group, Diabetes 42, no. 12 (1993): 1786-90; X. O. Shu, M. S. Linet, M. Steinbuch, et al., Breast-feeding and Risk of Childhood Acute Leukemia, Journal of the National Cancer Institute 91, no. 20 (1999): 1765-72; F. Perrillat,  J. Clavel, M. F. Auclerc, et al., Day-care, Early Common Infections and Childhood Acute Leukemia: A Multicentre French Case-Control Study, British Journal of Cancer 86, no. 7 (2002): 1064-69; V. B. Smulevich, L. G. Solionova, S. V. Belyakova, Parental Occupation and Other Factors and Cancer Risk in Children: I. Study Methodology and Non-occupational Factors, International Journal of Cancer 83, no. 6 (1999): 712-17; M. K. Davis, D. A. Savitz, B. I. Graubard, Infant Feeding and Childhood Cancer, Lancet 2, no. 8607 (1988): 365-89; L. Tryggvadottir, H. Tulinius, J. E. Eyfjord, T. Sigurvinsson, Breastfeeding and Reduced Risk of Breast Cancer in an Icelandic Cohort Study, American Journal of Epidemiology 154, no. 1 (2001): 37-42; V. Tovar-Guzman, C. Hernandez-Giron, E. Lazcano-Ponce, I. Romieu, Avila M. Hernandez, Breast Cancer in Mexican Women: An Epidemiological Study with Cervical  Cancer Control, Revista de Salude Publica 34, no. 2 (2000): 113-19; M. McCredie, C. Paul, D. C. Skegg,  S. Williams, Breast Cancer in Maori and Non-Maori Women, International Journal of Epidemiology 28, no. 2 (1999): 189-95; T. Zheng, L. Duan, Y. Liu, et al., Lactation Reduces Breast Cancer Risk in Shandong Province, China, American Journal of Epidemiology 152, no. 12 (2000): 1129-35; T. Zheng, T. R. Holford, S. T. Mayne,  et al., Lactation and Breast Cancer Risk: A Case-Control Study in Connecticut, British Journal of Cancer 84, no. 11 (2001): 1472-76; R. Ing, N. L. Petrakis,  J. H. Ho, Unilateral Breast-feeding and Breast Cancer, Lancet 2, no. 8029 (1977): 124-27; and Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer and Breastfeeding: Collaborative Reanalysis of Individual Data from 47 Epidemiological Studies in 30 Countries, Including 50,302 Women with Breast Cancer and 96,973 Women Without the Disease, Lancet 360, no. 9328 (2002): 187-95.
3. Tryggvadottir et al., Breastfeeding and Reduced Risk of Breast Cancer. See also Tovar-Guzman et al., Breast Cancer in Mexican Women; McCredie et al., Breast Cancer in Maori and Non-Maori Women; Zheng et al., Lactation Reduces Breast Cancer Risk in Shandong Province, China; Zheng et al., Lactation and Breast Cancer Risk; Ing et al., Unilateral Breast-feeding and Breast Cancer; and Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer and Breastfeeding.
4. Zheng et al., Lactation Reduces Breast Cancer Risk in Shandong Province, China.
5. Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health and Human Services Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding, Washington, D.C., 2000.
6. A. S. Ryan, Z. Wenjun, A. Acosta, Breastfeeding Continues to Increase into the New Millennium, Pediatrics 110, no. 6 (2002): 1103-9.
7. Work Group on Breastfeeding, Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.


< Return to The First Year of Parenting Overview






Home I Resource Center I Support Us! I Press Room I Site Credits I Feedback I Contact I Privacy I Site Map