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Breast-feeding makes financial, health sense

When you think of all the benefits of breast-feeding, it’s hard to imagine anyone would discourage mothers and families from breast-feeding their infants.

But it happens. Maybe not in the headline-grabbing ways we see in the news when a breast-feeding mom is kicked out of a public place for breast-feeding. No, more likely, discrimination against breast-feeding families happens in more subtle ways.

These include workplace policies that make it hard for nursing moms to take breaks to nurse or even find a quiet, clean place to pump. And it includes family pressure to give up breast-feeding because it is somehow seen as inconvenient, or because the family never had a history of breast-feeding their babies before.

Regardless of the form they take, there are many roadblocks making it hard for families to breast-feed and it is the job of all of us to remove those roadblocks so more babies are breast-fed and families have the freedom to feed their babies breast milk exclusively for at least the first six months of life.

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That’s why, to mark World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month, we are reminding all New Mexicans of the role they play in encouraging families to breast-feed their babies.

Why is breast-feeding so important?

Breast-feeding supports mother-baby bonding and research shows that babies who receive only breast milk for the first six months of life are less likely to develop a wide range of chronic and acute diseases. Mothers also benefit from breast-feeding with a decreased risk for breast and ovarian cancers.

In addition, encouraging breast-feeding exclusivity makes financial sense for both the state and for families. Studies by the UNM Bureau of Business and Economic Research have shown that, if all infants on WIC were exclusively breast-fed for the first six months, New Mexico would save more than $3 million in taxpayer dollars. Plus, families who breast-feed exclusively would save up to $1,500 a year in out-of-pocket formula costs.

So, not only is breast-feeding important for the health of babies, it also saves money.

Make no mistake, New Mexico is making important progress in encouraging breast-feeding but, as with so many things, more work remains to ensure mothers, infants and their families are able to breast-feed for as long as they would like.

Research suggests that a strong majority of New Mexico mothers seek to initiate breast-feeding, but that many give up well before they would like.

That’s one of the reasons the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force has been funded by the WK Kellogg Foundation to remove barriers and create an environment that welcomes breast-feeding families at every stage.

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Through this grant, we have teamed with the global Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative to help hospitals adopt more breast-feeding-friendly policies and achieve Baby-Friendly Designation, which is a commitment to concepts such as breast milk only for the first six months of a baby’s life, allowing families to “room in” with their newborn while in the hospital, and encouraging skin-to-skin contact for babies and mothers within the first hour after birth.

So far, eight of the state’s 30 maternity facilities have become designated Baby-Friendly and more are working to achieve this important goal.

In addition, we are working throughout New Mexico to foster community conversations about breast-feeding to better understand what kinds of support families need to reach their breast-feeding goals.

We are also actively working to educate employers about how they can become more family-friendly and accommodate nursing employees.

We have come a long way from the days when nursing moms drew cross looks from people around them. Though those days may be passing, the struggles of breast-feeding families to initiate and continue breast-feeding are still felt mightily by many thousands of New Mexicans.

Our work will not end until every family is supported in their breast-feeding journey and we hope you join us in that work.


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