This week, August 1-7, is World Breastfeeding Week, sponsored by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. The annual event is intended to raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding, and its essential part in neonatal and infant health. The program places emphasis on breastfeeding in developing nations, where childhood nutrition is often poor and infant mortality is high.
Among Latinas, the benefits of breastfeeding are already well established. A 2010 Centers for Disease Control report shows that among new mothers, Latinas are most likely to breastfeed their babies. More than 80 percent of new Latina mamis breastfeed their newborns, and at six months out, Latinas still lead the way, with 45 percent still breastfeeding—more than any other ethnic group in the U.S. Latina moms living in the U.S. but born in other countries show even higher rates of breastfeeding, perhaps as a result of public health programs in the 80s and 90s intended to promote breastfeeding in Central and South America.
Latinas may be comfortable breastfeeding as a result of cultural norms, as nursing a baby—either in front of family and friends or in public—is more accepted in Latin cultures. But whatever their reasons, they are doing themselves and their babies a huge favor. Yes, that’s right: breastfeeding benefits both baby and mom. Here’s why:
- Your early breast milk, called colostrum, is packed with essential nutrients and antibodies that help your baby get a strong start. Don’t be surprised if the thick, yellowish fluid starts leaking out while you are pregnant. After a few days of nursing, colostrum changes into mature milk, and continues to be a nutritionally perfect meal for your baby.
- Breast milk is easier for your baby to digest than formula, so he or she will suffer less gas and colic. If you compare dirty diapers of a breastfed baby versus a formula-fed baby, you’ll notice that the breastfed baby’s poops are a lot less stinky, too!
- Breast milk keeps your baby healthier, not just early in life, but as he matures, too. Breastfed babies show reduced incidents of asthma, obesity, lower respiratory infections and Type 2 diabetes.
- Once you get the hang of breastfeeding, you’ll find that you have no bottles, plastic nipples and cans of powder formula to mess with. In fact, you’ve got a ready-to-go meal for your baby, anytime, anyplace.
- Breastfeeding helps newborns feel calm and secure, but it has the same effects on moms as well. When you breastfeed, your body releases oxytocin, a hormone that induces a calm, relaxed feeling. No wonder mom and baby often both doze off during a nursing session!
- Breastfeeding is free. Unlike costly formula, breast milk is a free commodity. You simply need to keep doing in order to maintain your milk supply—and eat a healthy, balanced diet, of course.
- Women who breastfeed their babies show lower incidents of postpartum depression, Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Many women claim that breastfeeding helped them lose the baby weight they packed on during pregnancy. There’s no definitive research to prove this and the period during which you’re nursing is certainly no time to go on a diet. But if breastfeeding helps you lose weight, all the better!
For many women, breastfeeding does not come easy at first. As a new mom, I struggled to breastfeed my daughter. She was born underweight and wasn’t strong enough to latch on to the nipple and suckle. Fortunately, with a lot of perseverance—and more than a few tears on my part—she finally started to latch on and feed regularly. But because I had to give her formula at first, she’s always been a “lazy nurser” and we’ve always supplemented with bottles. Now, at eight months, she prefers my breast milk to powdered formula. And I know that in the first months of her life, she was getting the crucial nutrients she needed to grow and thrive, even if I couldn’t do 100 percent breast milk.
So, Latina mamis, you are leading the movement towards more breastfeeding and healthier babies, who in turn become healthier kids and adults. Let´s keep up the good work!