What You Need To Know About The New Guidelines For Breastfeeding

It's long been known that breastfeeding has a multitude of benefits for babies. But the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued new recommendations for breastfeeding that emphasize these benefits, even calling for more support for nursing parents.

Breastfeeding not only provides babies with the necessary nutrients to develop and grow, but also has benefits that continue throughout a child's life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Babies who are breastfed have a lower likelihood of developing asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). They also tend to get fewer ear infections and stomach bugs. Antibodies from breast milk help them to develop a strong immune system, setting them up for protection from illnesses throughout childhood and beyond.

Breastfeeding benefits the mother, too (via Cleveland Clinic). Breastfeeding reduces postpartum bleeding, helps the uterus to contract and return to normal size, increases the soothing hormones oxytocin and prolactin, decreases the risk for postpartum depression, can increase bonding between the mother and child, and burns calories which can help to promote faster weight loss. The CDC adds that breastfeeding may even reduce the mother's likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain cancers.

New guidelines calling for more support

An updated policy statement was released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) this week, reaffirming their previous recommendation of exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant's life. Their recommendation to continue breastfeeding with complementary foods for two years or beyond is in alignment with the World Health Organization's recommendations, as well. Additionally, the AAP gave the guidance that birth centers, hospitals, and doctors should implement practices that help to improve breastfeeding initiation, duration, and exclusivity.

A key recommendation from the statement is the need for policies that protect breastfeeding, which include universal paid maternity leave, the right to breastfeed in public, insurance coverage for lactation support and breast pumps, and universal break times at work with private locations for pumping. The AAP maintains that these policies are vital to supporting families in sustaining breastfeeding.

The average national rate of mothers who exclusively breastfeed at six months of age is 25.8%, but the AAP notes that this rate is much lower for Black women, as well as for those who are low-income, are younger than 20 years old, and have a high school education or less. The statement also includes a section on infants born to gender-diverse families, pointing out that they may have less access to breast milk and that parents might prefer the term "chestfeeding" and find it more inclusive.