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Despite compelling arguments to breast-feed babies for a year or longer, most mothers who opt to breast-feed stop doing so completely by the time their babies are six months old. According to the US Surgeon General, 75 percent of American mothers breast-feed their newborn babies; however, after six months, only 43 percent breast-feed, and of those babies, only 13 percent are breast-fed exclusively. But organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), along with the Surgeon General, have argued that breast-feeding—for however long a mother is able to do so—should be better supported because it has tremendous benefits for both the mother and child.
Mothers reap both health and financial rewards by breast-feeding. Many women find that breast-feeding helps them create special bonds with their babies. Physiologically, prolactin—a hormone released during breast-feeding—helps women relax, which can otherwise be difficult due to sleep deprivation and life changes that accompany a baby’s birth. Another released hormone, oxytocin, helps the uterus heal and return to its pre-pregnancy state. Breast-feeding reduces a woman’s risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis, and the longer she breast-feeds, the lower her risk. In addition, many mothers find that breast-feeding helps them lose the extra weight they gained during pregnancy.
Women who are able and willing to breast-feed also discover a substantial financial benefit. Infant formula can cost $1,200 to $1,500 per year! Add that to the cost of bottles, nipples and other supplies, and the price can be overwhelming.
While breast-feeding is certainly advantageous for the mother, breast-fed babies are the greatest beneficiaries, even if they are breast-fed for a short period of time. These babies have boosted immune systems, which results in a greater ability to fight diarrhea and pneumonia. Babies who are breast-fed during the first few days of life digest colostrums, which provide unique disease-fighting antibodies.