News reports pop up frequently about cultural expectations coming into conflict with moms and nursing infants: For example, a Virginia woman who was discretely breastfeeding in a Wal-Mart — spotted only by a security cam — was later tracked down by local authorities and arrested at her home. A Santa Cruz mom was breastfeeding her baby in her car at a filling station. When police pulled her from her car and took her newborn from her arms, she was charged with resisting arrest.
Although 49 states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands have laws allowing women to breastfeed in any location, that doesn’t keep moms from coming under fire for doing what’s healthy and natural. So it’s no surprise that while 77 percent of North American moms start off nursing their newborns, by the time their child is 6 months old, only 49 percent continue to do so.
That’s a shame, because the benefits are enormous. Breastfeeding helps a child develop a stronger immune system and a bigger brain, and dodge allergies and childhood obesity. But recently, researchers analyzing data from the 20-years-long Nurses Health Study found that women who breastfed for less than six months had an increased risk of hardening of the arteries. However, moms breastfeeding for a longer time gained major benefits: It decreased the risk for Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high blood sugar and being overweight or obese. The health-care benefits to everyone and the savings to our health care system are significant, so encourage acceptance and understanding of this most natural of acts.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit sharecare.com.