OREGON COUNTY -- More mothers in Missouri are breastfeeding their babies, but officials with the Oregon County Health Department are hoping more women in Oregon County will choose breastfeeding and breastfeed longer to give their babies the best start in life.
Oregon County Health Department Director Sheila Russell said the benefits of breastfeeding are emphasized during August, Missouri Breastfeeding Month. She said in addition, Worldwide Breastfeeding Week is observed Aug. 1-7.
"Breastfeeding is one of the most important decisions a new mother can make to benefit the health of their child," said Women's, Infants,' Children's (WIC) Nutritionist Julie Crowell.
Russell said health experts agree that breastfeeding promotes a baby's health from birth and throughout life. "Breastfeeding helps develop a baby's brain as well as aid in the growth of the immune system to withstand such ailments as diarrhea, ear infections and infections of the respiratory and urinary tracts," she said.
Breastfeeding reduces a baby's risk of environment-born illnesses and allergies. In addition, babies who are breastfed exclusively for at least six months have a reduced risk of obesity later in life, according to the health department.
"One thing many people do not realize is that mothers also benefit from breastfeeding babies. It helps reduce postpartum bleeding, helps the mother return to her pre-pregnancy weight sooner, boosts her immune system and even reduces a diabetic mother's need for insulin," Russell said. She said women who breastfeed also have increased protection from breast and ovarian cancers and osteoporosis.
Health department officials said the breastfeeding rate among Missouri mothers has steadily increased during the past several years.
"However, many women are still not breastfeeding their babies," Crowell said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65.6 percent of mothers initiated breastfeeding their babies at birth in Missouri in 2004, but only 29.9 percent of infants were still being breastfed at 6 months of age. The CDC's national Healthy People 2010 breastfeeding goals are 75 percent at birth and 50 percent at 6 months old.
Russell said the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for approximately the first 6 months of life and continue to be breastfed, while food is being introduced, until the baby is at least 1 year old.
"Support from family members, friends and health care providers is important in order to increase the number of women who breastfeed their babies," Crowell said.
For more information about the benefits of breastfeeding call the Oregon County Health Department at 417-778-7450 or 417-264-3114, go online at www.dhss.mo.gov/breastfeeding or call 800-877-6246.