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Breastfeeding, most preventive health measure
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Breastfeeding is not only cost effective but also a preventive health measure, a U.S. expert said ahead of the World Breastfeeding Week 2009 from Aug.1 to Aug. 7.

The whole society should do more to promote breastfeeding, Dr. Joan Younger Meek, Chair of the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (USBC), told Xinhua in an written interview.

Meek, who is also clinical associate professor in Florida State University, said both mothers and infants can benefit greatly from breastfeeding, so women should breastfeed their children as possible as they can.

"Formula fed infants have higher risks of infection, such as diarrhea, ear infections, and respiratory infections, chronic disease, such as diabetes, obesity, sudden infant death syndrome, and even risk of death, compared to breastfed infants," said Dr. Meek.

"Mothers who breastfeed have lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer, less risk of heart disease and diabetes."

"During times of emergency, and especially in times of natural disaster, breast milk is the safe, affordable, and always available source of feeding for a baby," Meek said.

He said that the USBC will hold a series activities to celebrate the World Breastfeeding Week, whose theme is "Breastfeeding: A Vital Emergency Response."

The USBC, formed in 1998, is an independent nonprofit coalition of more than 40 organizations that support its mission to improve the Nation's health by working collaboratively to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.

"Formula feeding costs much more than breastfeeding and is not environmentally friendly," said Meek.

"We all need to help educate women and families about the importance of breastfeeding," he added.

Talking about what measures the government, communities and society should take to promote breastfeeding, Meek said that hospital and health care workers need to actively support breastfeeding. Babies should be kept with their mothers after delivery and placed skin-to-skin.

According to the U.S. National Immunization Survey, the most recent national statistics show that 74 percent of babies born in the U.S. begin breastfeeding, but only 43 percent are breastfeeding at 6 months, and 21 percent at 12 months. Only 32 percent are exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months.

U.S. rates are higher than some countries, but are lower than other countries, such as Sweden, where more than 95 percent of babies are breastfed.

Recommendations are that babies should be breastfed exclusively for 6 months, and continue being breastfed with appropriate introduction of complementary solid for 1-2 years of life.

"We need to work to make breastfeeding the cultural norm and eliminate routine use of infant formula," Meek said, "We need to support women's rights to breastfeed in public and to continue to breastfeed if they return to work."

On June 11, 2009, U.S. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney and Senator Jeff Merkley introduced the Breastfeeding Promotion Act in both houses of Congress, to provide a unified national policy to keep mothers, their children, and their communities healthy.

The act will protect breastfeeding mothers from discrimination in the workplace, require large employers to provide the time and private space moms need to express milk, and provides for tax incentives for employers that establish private lactation areas in the workplace.

Meek said the act is a starting point and provides strong language of support. "Though the act is not all inclusive, it is an important step in helping women achieve their breastfeeding goals."

(Xinhua News Agency August 1, 2009)

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