Nutrition experts believe that breast milk is the best food for babies, plain and simple. Human milk contains vital nutrients and other substances that allow babies to thrive. Mothers need all the help we can give to be successful in this important task of motherhood. We should all want mothers to not only choose to start breast feeding, but to continue the practice as necessary. Recent studies have found that more mothers are choosing to start and continue feeding from the breast. The National Immunization Survey (NIS) collects vaccination and other health data from households with children. In 2003, the NIS found over 70% started breastfeeding, 34.5% breastfed for 6 months, and exactly 16% breastfed for 12 months. Their latest data, from 2008, showed improvement in these percentages with 74%, 44.4%, and 23.4%, respectively. Interestingly when racial/ethnic data were included in the 2001 data, the survey found over 47% of African Americans, 71% of Caucasians, and 77% of Hispanics initiated breastfeeding.
Are we in the midst of a food “Renaissance”? Mothers in the US are increasingly choosing more natural foods as their primary source of nutrition for their infants and children. I think we should all be thrilled by this news. Breastfeeding an infant for six to twelve months, or longer, is great for babies as well as mothers. The twentieth century ushered in the revolution of fast, convenient, processed, inexpensive foods. Infants and children shared in this “revolution” by increasingly being served such things as infant formula, sodas of all variety, processed meats, juices, and of course, fast food. Maybe the 21st century will undo much of this “progress”.
Artificial food has lost much of its luster in recent days, with parents increasingly seeking and demanding whole foods for their children. What could be more “whole” than breast milk? In the midst of the obesity and diabetes epidemic, I think that parents sense how important good food is to the well-being of their children. I see parents, whenever possible, pushing back the clock to a time when food was food and natural was natural. What better place to start than the day a baby is born by starting with what almost everyone agrees is the best food for newborns, your mother’s milk!
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Written by Norman Spencer and Paul Smolen M.D.