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Breast is Best

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There are lots of names for breasts: Boobs, melons, hooters, fun bags, jugs, to name just a few. But “milkies” is what my daughter chose to call breasts. After all, they were there to produce milk for her, and not just any old milk, the perfect milk. The perfect milk for the perfect little person who will be drinking it. I see many misconceptions, held by women, men, children, and health professionals, revolving around the act of breastfeeding.

For simplicity, I’ll just talk about breastfeeding versus infant-formula feeding, although most of the benefits of breastfeeding apply to bottlefeeding with breastmilk. Breastfeeding has repeatedly been shown to be more beneficial than feeding with infant formula, in a continually growing number of ways. These include protecting baby from illness and infections, providing hundreds of ingredients necessary for a growing baby, aiding in baby’s development of eyesight, speech, cognitive development, and promoting a special bond between mum and bub. Not to mention the benefits to mum if she breastfeeds, such as getting her body back in shape quicker, reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer, and (this is my favourite) delayed return of menstruation which can act as a natural contraceptive. On the other hand, babies who are not breastfed have a higher risk of cot death, have a higher likelihood of allergies, and may have an increased risk of juvenile diabetes and heart disease later in life. To put it simply: “Breast is best”.

The number of breastfed infants has changed dramatically over the last century. Although most Australian newborns were breastfed at the beginning of last century, by the 1970’s the number of breastfed babies had dwindled to less than 50%. I imagine this was due to the development of infant formula, which replaced straight cow’s milk, though I doubt that anyone in their right mind could convince themselves that formula was better than breastmilk. The number of breastfed babies has risen since the 70’s, with 2004-05 showing 83% of infants being breastfed when they were discharged from the hospital. Ok, so that seems better, but in reality many of those children will only be fed exclusively on breast milk for less than the recommended minimum length of time. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and breastfeeding supplemented by solid food for up to two years or beyond. These recommendations take into account all the scientific research and long term studies. There is no doubt in any scientific or pseudo-scientific communities, or even infant formula companies, that breastfeeding is the best option. So why were only 32% of infants aged up to six months, the minimum recommended age for exclusive breastfeeding, breastfed in 2001?

In a modern world where we are obsessed with what is best for our health, how is it so many women do what is ‘not best’ for their children? My answer to this question is education, education at home, in the hospital, through the media, and at schools.

Before I continue about the education of breastfeeding (or lack thereof), let me first explain why there needs to be any education at all about how and why to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is a lovely and natural act, but it is a learned behaviour, and can be difficult to do. And I mean painfully difficult. Think cracked nipples, infected milk ducts, screaming and sleepless babies… and that’s on top of the mother’s sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and pain after giving birth. If a mother doesn’t feed her baby for the right length of time, at the right frequency, in the right position, or if she gets too stressed, too hormonal, not enough sleep, or even eats the wrong things, all sorts of problems can occur with the supply of milk. Many mothers find they are in too much pain or have too little milk and resort to formula, but a large number of these mothers could have avoided those problems if they had been given the right information about breastfeeding in the first place.

Mothers have a hard enough time making choices without having to feel guilty about them. It is not my intention to point fingers and make any individuals who have chosen to bottlefeed to feel bad. I am simply concerned with the public view of breastfeeding, and that there are mothers who may have continued to breastfeed if they had been more informed (oh, and also with the mothers who claim that it%

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