Women who breastfeed have healthier kids and enjoy healthier lives

I applaud the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's move to improve supports for breastfeeding women and their babies, both in the hospital and following discharge ("Maryland seeks to improve support for mothers to breast-feed," Feb. 11).

This effort goes along with U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin's 2011 call to action, in which she states "the time has come to set forth the important roles and responsibilities of clinicians, employers, communities, researchers and government leaders and to urge us all to take on a commitment to enable mothers to meet their personal goals for breastfeeding."

Breast milk is not just a food. As a recent Sun article noted, breast milk provides much more than formula. Research has shown that the risks of ear infections, pneumonia, diarrhea and other infections are increased when a baby is not breastfed. The risk of sudden infant death is also increased. In addition, breastfed babies and moms who breastfeed have lower risks of diabetes and certain cancers.

An 2010 article in the journal Pediatrics estimated that approximately $13 billion could be saved in health care costs if 90 percent of American mothers followed the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation to breastfeed exclusively.

In Dr. Kenneth Hoffman's response to The Sun's article on DHMH, he expressed concern over the increased cost of extra visits to the doctor's when a mother is having difficulty breastfeeding. Surely the costs of these few visits are far offset by the other benefits of breastfeeding.

DHMH's goal is provide extra help in the hospital so that a mother will be less likely to have problems when she gets home. If she does have problems, there should be a helpful and supportive pediatrician but also access to lactation supports in the community.

Yes, people can say "I was bottle-fed and I turned out fine and bonded well with my mother." That doesn't change the fact that the odds are a child will grow up healthier if he or she is breastfed.

The odds are that we are not going to get in a car accident when we are driving but most of us still wear seat belts. Sure, there will always be women who are unable to successfully breastfeed or who choose not to breastfeed. If that is their informed choice, we should accept that. But breastfeeding should be the accepted and promoted norm in our society, and we should support breastfeeding mothers and children.

Dr. Dana Silver, Baltimore

The writer is a physician at the Herman and Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai.

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