Our Tiniest Population Needs the Best Beginning!

Allison Stiles, M.D., FAAP

Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, Breastfeeding Medicine

Chair, Shelby County Breastfeeding Coalition


Infant Mortality – what an important topic! Our tiniest population needs the best beginning!   Breastfeeding is known to reduce Infant Mortality.   On the world-wide stage, UNICEF estimates breastfeeding exclusively six months would save 1 million infant lives. Of course some countries don’t have formula – don’t have WIC to fall back on for formula, and there is just no other way to feed your infant.

In the United States, NOT breastfeeding exclusively to that goal of six months has shown to cost over $13 billion and 911 lives because breast milk reduces risk of infections, type 1 and 2 diabetes, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, obesity, allergies and asthma. I am not sure if that study included the benefits to the tiniest babies – the babies in the NICU. These are the babies that contribute the most to the Infant Mortality Rate. These babies in the NICU are prone to infections, line sepsis, and NEC (Necrotizing Enterocolitis). Breast milk has over 14 bioactive components that fight infection, provide the baby’s internal “microbiome” and teach the baby’s immune system how to live in the mother’s world of bugs.

For these little preemies, breast milk has also been shown to increase the Mental Development Index, Psychomotor Development Index, and Behavior Rating Scale which means better brains and better developmental outcomes! There are several studies showing breast milk reduces rehospitalization rates. Breastfeeding improves cognitive outcomes of preterm and term infants, even when adjusted for family socioeconomic status and educational attainment. There is a 30% obesity reduction in babies breastfed for nine months. Breastfed infants are seven times more likely to survive a natural disaster. Breast milk is nothing short of a miracle substance, probably the 2nd most amazing human liquid next to blood.

We must improve breastfeeding rates by teaching our girls and boys what breasts are for, teaching our dads and grandmas and great grandmas about their important support of breastfeeding.   We need OB’s and Gynecologists to plant the “seed” – the idea.  We need pediatricians who can assess and assist with breastfeeding – helping the seed to grow.   We need more lactation consultants available to Moms after discharge from the hospital. We need hospitals in Memphis that are “baby friendly.”

We have the TN Breastfeeding Hotline 24/7 (1-855-4BF-MOMS or 1-855-423-6667), and the Affordable Care Act has made the provision of breast pumps by insurance a norm.   Thankfully, TN law supports the rights of moms to breastfeed in public and to pump when back to work, in a place that is not a bathroom, and maternity leave policies are improving. St. Jude now offers six weeks paid maternity leave.  England gives eight months paid maternity leave, and Australia gives six months fully paid and 12 months half pay maternity leave. The US ranks 28th in Infant Mortality in the world according to 2010 CDC data.

Hmmm – things to think about on our journey to reducing Infant Mortality!

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