The first week in August is international breastfeeding week and Canada celebrates its own breastfeeding week in October.
Both weeks are meant to raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding as well as provide a time for those who are unsure to take part in events and learn more.
In many other countries of the world, it is the norm to breastfeed a child until their second birthday, if not beyond.
Yet here in Canada, and the United States as well, breastfeeding initiation rates are high, meaning most children start on breast milk, but the number of breast fed children over six months is very low.
Jan Black, a lactation consultant, said it is the recommendation of the American and European Academy of Paediatrics that children be breast fed exclusively until six months, and still be provided with breast milk to two years.
“Basically you have to consider breast milk is tailor-made for babies. It’s human milk for human babies,” said Black.
She pointed out that a mother’s body will actually produce different types of milk throughout the day, and that milk for a premature infant would provide them with different nutrients and supplements than a full-term baby.
“The simple fact is that it’s not just a static one type of milk, it changes to adapt to mom and baby.”
She said it is important for moms to remember that breast milk provides their baby with antibodies. “If mom is exposed to a cold or anything her body develops the antibodies to fight it off. Through her milk, baby then receives those same antibodies and builds up an immunity to whatever they were exposed to.”
Black said it is especially important for moms to know the health benefits for both herself and baby if she chooses, and is able, to breastfeed.
“Babies who are breast fed show a lower risk of food allergies and reduced risk for conditions like diabetes, asthma and eczema. There is even a correlation between breast fed children and the reduction in risk that they become obese later in infancy.”
Benefits for moms include the reduction in risk of developing ovarian cancer as well as breast cancer. It also promotes faster weight loss in moms after baby is born, which Black said is a huge benefit for many women.
“It has also been suggested that there is a higher risk of mom developing diabetes if she doesn’t breast feed.”
Black said women don’t need to feel intimidated by the idea of breastfeeding, but find ways to make it work for them. “If it means they pump milk and provide it to baby in a bottle that’s okay too. We just want to encourage everybody to find something that works for them.”
She also said women are invited to look into what services are available in their area. “A good place to start is a public health nurse. There are also breastfeeding support groups and all kinds of information out there.”