Breastfeeding Awareness Week

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August is World Breastfeeding Month and the 1st of August marks the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week! The aim of this week is to promote and support breastfeeding around the world, and highlight the huge benefits that breastfeeding can bring to new mothers and their babies.

Historically, breastfeeding has been met with significant controversy, leaving many mothers facing a difficult decision of whether to breastfeed their baby; a decision which is made based on a number of both physiological and social factors that vary for every mother.

Unfortunately, there is an ongoing stigma around breastfeeding in public, and mothers are often too embarrassed or self-conscious to breastfeed their babies at certain times or in certain places. This can lead to women avoiding breastfeeding altogether, resulting in an increased risk of negative health outcomes to both the mother and the baby.

Babies who are non-human milk fed have higher risks of:

  • Respiratory and gastrointestinal tract infections requiring hospitalisation
  • Otitis media (middle ear infection)
  • Enuresis (bedwetting/inability to control urination)
  • Lower cognition
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Leukaemia
  • SIDS

Furthermore, infants remain at risk of negative health outcomes in their childhood and adolescent years, including a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes type 1 and 2, and obesity.|

For mothers, the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the better the protection from negative health outcomes, including a higher risk of:

  • Cardiovascular disease (especially hypertension and macular degeneration)
  • Adult onset macular degeneration
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Breast cancer

There are also several other health benefits of breastfeeding for a mother, including:

  • Improved weight loss in the post-natal period
  • Reduced risk of postpartum depression
  • Reduced risk of persistent pelvic girdle pain 18 months after delivery
  • Increased bone mineral density and thus prevention of osteoporosis

If you are a new or soon-to-be mother, it is important to be aware of these health outcomes when making decisions about breastfeeding. However, we should also be mindful that there are various reasons why mothers may be unable to breastfeed their baby, and new mothers should speak to their obstetrician, women’s health physiotherapist or lactation consultant if they have any issues or questions regarding breastfeeding.

References:

  1. Dieterich, C. M., Felice, J. P., O’Sullivan, E., & Rasmussen, K. M. (2013). Breastfeeding and health outcomes for the mother-infant dyad. Pediatric clinics of North America, 60(1), 31–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcl.2012.09.010
  2. Schwarz EB, Brown JS, Creasman JM, Stuebe A, McClure CK, Van Den Eeden SK, Thom D. Lactation and maternal risk of type 2 diabetes: a population-based study. Am J Med. 2010 Sep;123(9):863.e1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2010.03.016. Erratum in: Am J Med. 2011 Oct;124(10):e9. PMID: 20800156; PMCID: PMC2930900.

Chantelle Simioni
BSc, DPT
Pelvic Floor and Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist

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