Women's Health : Benefits of Breastfeeding

August is National Breastfeeding Month, and Health Net, Inc. (NYSE: HNT) is supporting this annual initiative, which is spearheaded by the United States Breastfeeding Committee, by promoting the many benefits of breastfeeding.

“It’s well established that breastfeeding is beneficial to both babies and mothers,” said Patricia Buss, M.D., Medical and Health Care Services Operations officer for Health Net, Inc. However, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that some breastfeeding rates are relatively low. “For example,” Buss said, “the CDC reported in 2012 that, while 75 percent of new mothers in the United States start out breastfeeding, less than half breastfed their babies for six months.”

Buss points out, “The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that women breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months, and continue to breastfeed for one year or longer, along with giving their child pediatrician-recommended foods. Although more moms are now breastfeeding their babies, Health Net’s goal is to not only help increase the percentage of breastfeeding moms, but also to help increase the average number of months that they breastfeed.”

To help expand awareness of this goal, Health Net provides its members with breastfeeding education and resources. Members can access lactation education and support services, including access to international, board-certified lactation consultants through Health Net. Additionally, Health Net supports healthy outcomes for mothers and babies by providing breast pumps to new mothers which are covered under members’ preventive care benefits.

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health (OWH), breastfeeding benefits babies, moms and possibly society as a whole. The OWH states that some of the advantages of breastfeeding include:

Early breast milk is packed with nutrients and antibodies – Sometimes referred to as liquid gold, colostrum is the thick, yellow breast milk that is produced just after birth. This milk is very rich in nutrients and antibodies that protect the newborn. Breast milk changes as the baby grows – Colostrum changes into what is called mature milk. By the third to fifth day after birth, this mature breast milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water and protein to facilitate the baby’s growth. It is a thinner type of milk than colostrum, but it provides all of the nutrients and antibodies the baby needs.

Breast milk is easier to digest – For most babies, especially premature babies, breast milk is easier to digest than formula.

Breast milk fights disease – The cells, hormones and antibodies in breast milk protect babies from illness. This protection is unique to breast milk; formula cannot match the chemical makeup of human breast milk. In fact, among formula-fed babies, ear infections and diarrhea are more common. Additionally, formula-fed babies also have higher risks of:

necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in preterm infants;

lower respiratory infections;

asthma;

obesity; and

type 2 diabetes.

Some research shows that breastfeeding also can reduce the risk of type 1 diabetes, childhood leukemia and atopic dermatitis (a type of skin rash) in babies. Further findings point to breastfeeding’s ability to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

Other factors that OWH says are worth considering include:

Convenience– Breastfeeding is always at the ready. That means, when you breastfeed, there are no bottles and nipples to sterilize, and you don’t have to buy, measure and mix formula. Additionally, there are no bottles to warm in the middle of the night; with breastfeeding, mothers can satisfy their babies’ hunger on demand.

Money savings – Formula and feeding supplies can cost well over $1,500 each year, depending on how much your baby eats. Breastfed babies also are sick less often, which can lower health care costs.

A bridge to bonding – Physical contact helps newborns feel secure, warm and comforted. Mothers also benefit from this closeness, and the skin-to-skin contact can boost the mom’s levels of oxytocin, a hormone that helps milk flow and additionally can serve as a calming force to the mother.

Maternal health benefits – Breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of these health problems in women:

type 2 diabetes;

breast cancer;

ovarian cancer; and

postpartum depression.

Less work missed – Breastfeeding mothers miss fewer days from work because their infants are sick less often.

Breastfeeding may benefit society – The OWH contends that the nation benefits overall when mothers breastfeed. The OWH notes that:

Recent research shows that if 90 percent of mothers breastfed exclusively for six months, nearly 1,000 deaths among infants could be prevented.

The United States also would save $13 billion per year; medical-care costs are lower for fully breastfed infants than never-breastfed infants.

Breastfed infants typically need fewer sick-care visits, prescriptions and hospitalizations. Breastfeeding benefits the environment – There is less trash and plastic waste associated with breastfeeding compared to that produced by formula cans and bottle supplies.

For more information about National Breastfeeding Month, visit http://www.womenshealth.gov/ and http://www.usbreastfeeding.org/.

lori.rieger@healthnet.com www.twitter.com/hnlori

Source: Health Net, Inc.

Copyright Business Wire 2013

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