Breastfeeding is good for babies, and helps prevent infant deaths
David Sweat, MPH
Chief of Epidemiology and Infectious Disease Control
Shelby County Health Department
In Epidemiology, we study patterns of disease and health in populations, and we try to answer questions about what causes the patterns in the first place. Who gets diseases? Who lives longer, and who dies too young? Why do the patterns and trends of health in a given place look the way they do?
Between 2007-2013, overall infant mortality rates in Shelby County have declined, meaning that fewer babies are dying and more of our infants born here are living past their first birthday. This is wonderful news. Today, infant mortality rates in Shelby County TN are the lowest that they have ever been. It’s also good to see that the populations with the worst outcomes in 2004 are the ones that have seen the most improvement in the past ten years.
As the Shelby County Health Department Office of Epidemiology has looked at the data, one of the biggest questions we have tried to answer is “Why are the rates going down? What is it that is going right?” There is no one single answer that explains why more babies are living and fewer babies are dying, but one thing we do know is that as breastfeeding has increased, outcomes have improved. The more women who breastfeed their babies, and the longer they are breastfed, babies live longer and are healthier.
Numerous health studies have demonstrated that breastfed babies are healthier and live longer than babies who were never breastfed. Breastfeeding is known to lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), reduce the number of hospital admissions, reduce the number of ear infections a baby has, and reduce the number of colds and other respiratory diseases a baby gets. Simply stated, babies who are breastfed get sick less often and they are better able to fight off infections that could be life-threatening. And the good news is, more and more women in Shelby County are breastfeeding their babies.
Breastfed babies not only are more likely to survive infancy, but they also have been shown to go on to be healthier for their entire lives. Children and adults who were breastfed as babies have a 30% lower risk of developing Type I Diabetes, a 40% lower risk of developing Type II Diabetes, and show a 30% lower risk of obesity as teenagers and adults. Breastfed babies also have a lower risk of developing asthma later in life. The US Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding says that breastfeeding is the single most important thing a woman can do to protect her baby’s health and also her own health. Women who breastfeed also show health improvements for themselves, such as lower risk of breast cancer, lower rates of rheumatoid arthritis, lower risk of high blood pressure, less obesity, quicker returns to their pre-pregnancy weights, lower risk of postpartum depression, and lower risk of diabetes and heart disease when compared with women who did not breastfeed their infants.
Between 2007-2013 breastfeeding rates in Shelby County increased from about 55% of mothers reporting they started breastfeeding their babies to 70% of mothers reporting breastfeeding. And all the health benefits that come from breastfeeding help explain why more of our babies are living and fewer babies are dying before they are one year old.