Report: Breastfeeding Saves Lives
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Increased breastfeeding could save the lives of Tennessee mothers and babies. A new report published in the medical journal, The Lancet, suggests increasing that number could save 820,000 babies and women every year around the world.
The primary reason, say experts, is the antibodies and nourishment only a mother's milk can provide.
Michelle Devlin, a leader with the La Leche League, says it's a practice that is as natural as giving birth.
"These are naturally things that are in our bodies and the way our bodies are made to work, that we're supposed to be protected against these things," says Devlin. "By breastfeeding, we are keeping those benefits and letting our bodies fill their biological norm."
In addition to benefiting the baby, the report indicates a global increase in breastfeeding could prevent an extra 20,000 deaths from breast cancer every year.
A small percentage of women are unable to breastfeed for medical reasons while others report not having the support they need to care for their child in that way.
In Tennessee a mother can breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, and employers must provide break time and space each day to employees who need to express milk for their child.
To encourage breastfeeding the World Health Organization recommends hospitals practice "rooming in" - allowing mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day in the hospital.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says only 24 percent of Tennessee hospitals have a system where the infant remains with the mother in the maternity ward, versus going to a nursery.
Devlin says that initial bonding is key for long-term success.
"It's beneficial for babies to be with their mothers," she says. "They are able to respond to their babies' cues better, feel competent in their babies' care and yes, it's definitely a huge help towards breastfeeding, because you have access to the baby and the baby has access to the mother right away."
Opponents of "rooming in" policies say it doesn't give the mother a chance to properly recover before bringing the baby home.
Hospitals without nurseries for well babies and mothers are encouraged to provide additional in-room support. More than half of Tennessee moms attempt breastfeeding upon the birth of their child, but that number drops to 29 percent by the time the child is six months old, according to the CDC.