World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated globally August 1-7. This annual awareness campaign aims to highlight the many benefits of breastfeeding for mothers, infants, children, families and the environment throughout the world. The theme for this year’s celebration is Breastfeeding, Foundation of Life.

Marji Stark

The benefits of breastfeeding are multifaceted and life changing. For women, breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, female associated cancers, postpartum depression and aids in child spacing. For infants and children, human milk reduces the risk of respiratory illnesses, allergies and asthma, ear infections, diarrhea and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of an infant’s life. Breastfeeding should continue as new foods are introduced through the child’s first year. Mothers are then encouraged to continue breastfeeding for as long as mother and child desire. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of two years of breastmilk for all children, and asserts that every mother and child, no matter their location or circumstance, benefits from optimal breastfeeding practice.

Breastfeeding rates continue to rise in the United States as more and more families recognize that human milk is the perfect food for human babies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports progress in promoting and supporting breastfeeding, but state level work is still needed.

Missouri law protects breastfeeding and states that a nursing mother may breastfeed in any public or private location where she is authorized to be. The Missouri breastfeeding law also addresses employed mothers, assuring they should have a clean, private space to express breastmilk, and sufficient times throughout the workday to do so.

To reach the breastfeeding milestones established by the World Health Organization and the CDC, mothers and families need ongoing education and support. Hospitals throughout the Greater Kansas City Area and advocacy organizations such as La Leche League offer daily phone assistance and weekly/monthly support groups. Most of these services are complementary and available to all mothers. When nursing mothers connect frequently in person or online, share their experiences and challenges, and encourage one another, breastfeeding is normalized and families are more likely to reach their goals.

This article was written by Marji Stark who is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at Saint Luke’s East Hospital and a guest author for the Lee’s Summit Health Education Advisory Board; a Mayor-appointed, volunteer board that promotes and advocates community health by assessing health issues, educating the public and government agencies, developing plans to address health issues, encouraging partnerships and evaluating the outcomes.