World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from Aug. 1 to 7 to help raise awareness around the benefits of breastfeeding and encourage mothers to consider the option. Despite the extensive list of benefits breastfeeding has for both mothers and babies, many still question whether or not they should breastfeed. This year, mothers may have additional questions about breastfeeding due to COVID-19. Dr. Cameual Wright, the medical director at CareSource, a nonprofit health plan, has tips and information about breastfeeding to help answer the questions and concerns that mothers may have.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Mother and Baby
The World Health Organization (WHO) actively promotes breastfeeding as the best source of nourishment for infants and young children. Breast milk is specifically formulated for optimal nutrition for your newborn. The composition of breast milk changes to match your baby’s needs as it grows and its nutritional requirements change. Babies also receive immune support from the antibodies provided in breast milk. Breast milk offers immunity in the early stages of life before a baby can receive vaccinations. In addition to the ample amount of health benefits, breast milk is economically favorable. Especially during COVID-19 when people are paying attention to finances, breast milk offers the best nutrition for free.
Breastfeeding offers benefits to mothers as well. It creates a special bond between mother and baby. Breastfeeding reduces health risks like breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It even burns extra calories and helps many mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight.
COVID-19’s Impact on Breastfeeding
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has raised many questions for mothers and expecting mothers. Many wonder if it’s safe to breastfeed and risk the spread of COVID-19. If the baby is positive for COVID-19, the mother can breastfeed as she normally would. If a baby is negative for COVID-19 but the mother is positive, the mother should consult her health care provider. Those who are considering breastfeeding their child but worry about the risk should know that there are rare exceptions to when breastfeeding is not recommended, as the benefits almost always outweigh the risks.
Cultural Barriers to Breastfeeding
There are cultural considerations that need to be made when it comes to breastfeeding. Women generally emulate what those in their community do. If breastfeeding is common within their community, they are more likely to breastfeed as well. Black women are not as likely to breastfeed due to these cultural barriers. Cultural barriers in terms of breastfeeding can include less generational knowledge, implicit biases, women from specific cultures receiving less education and encouragement to breastfeed when in the hospital and lack of representation in educational materials. We should strive for culturally appropriate education and representation in the health care spaces and work to grow awareness of and remove implicit biases.
CareSource encourages mothers and expecting mothers to learn more about breastfeeding as it is a major health benefit to both mothers and babies. CareSource provides case management workers who can connect them to resources in their community including lactation consultants. Mothers with questions can use CareSource24, our 24-hour nurse helpline, to ask questions and get advice on questions like these. Lactation consultants are covered by CareSource and can provide mothers with prenatal education and postnatal assistance with breastfeeding.
Visit www.caresource.com for more information about their services for mothers and expecting mothers.
Dr. Cameual Wright is CareSource Indiana medical director.