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Posts Tagged ‘Breastfeeding’

Those who know me in my personal life know that I am a big fan and proponent of exclusive and extended breastfeeding. When I had my first child, I was personally dedicated to making breastfeeding a success, regardless of the effort involved. After 3 months of nearly complete torture, we managed to get a solid breastfeeding relationship launched, and I was able to continue for multiple years.

These days, I am on baby number two and finding the experience to be much easier the second time around. I feel very fortunate in this. The process finally seems “natural.” I know that many women do not find breastfeeding to be easy and natural, but the benefits of sticking it out can be substantial.

Today, I came across a fascinating article on a new study highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding on infant brain development. Check out the press release here.

Researchers took infants and divided them into groups based on their primary food source – exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive formula feeding, and combined breastfeeding and formula feeding.  The infants were given an MRI to evaluate structural and functional differences in their brains.

Results suggested that infants who were exclusively breastfed had more growth in areas of their brain involved in language, emotional functioning, and general cognition.  They also had increased myelination compared to the other groups.  Larger amounts of myelin help the brain process information more quickly and efficiently.

As a science nerd and breastfeeding fan, this study really validates all the frustration and effort I (and countless other women) have put into making breastfeeding a success.  There is also some evidence in the study that including some breastfeeding gives kids an edge, although not as strong as exclusively breastfeeding.

Of course, as always, it is important to realize that correlation does not necessarily imply causation.  Other factors may be responsible for the association.  And certainly, giving your child formula does not condemn them to a life of being dull and stunted in their growth. In all honesty, I was exclusively formula fed as a baby in the days before DHA was actively added to formulas, and I managed to get a Ph.D. as an adult.  So many other things influence general cognitive abilities that one choice about feeding as an infant is not a complete determinant of later ability.

But, for those women who are struggling with frustration and self-doubt in their breastfeeding relationship – this study suggests that it is worthwhile to stick it out as much as you can.

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In my web browsing today, I came across an interesting announcement from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services regarding new guidelines for health plans to cover women’s services.  Specifically, HHS is mandating that new private insurance plans provide free well visits for women, free contraception, free breastfeeding support, and free domestic violence screening.  Check out the new guidelines here:

http://www.hrsa.gov/womensguidelines/

The news outlets have been all a-twitter with the news about requirements for free contraception.  It’s certainly a hot button issue, given that there are several religious groups that frown on the use of contraceptives, while others insist that greater access to contraceptives will reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

While that is an interesting debate, I think the most interesting piece for me is the inclusion of a provision for providing free breastfeeding support.  To be honest, I found that breastfeeding was one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do.  When I had a small infant, I attended weekly support group meetings with my lactation consultant to assess my baby’s progress and troubleshoot problems.  Without that kind of intensive support, I likely would have given up after a few weeks.  I was fortunate that the support was available and that we had the financial resources to take advantage of those services.  It was definitely not covered by my HMO insurance plan, and paying privately was a bit pricey.

According to the HHS website, insurance plans will be required to provide breastfeeding counseling from a trained provider and cover costs related to renting breastfeeding equipment.  Hopefully this will remove some of the barriers to breastfeeding success for women throughout the US.

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