The first week of August is World Breastfeeding Week. This little diddy, mostly unknown unless you are in the breastfeeding industry, honors breastfeeding around the world and the benefits that breastfeeding has to offer. I admit, had I not worked at Medela, I doubt I would have known the significance of this week or that it even existed.
Breastfeeding was something I knew I was going to do from the time I was 18. I was working at a restaurant when a woman was breastfeeding her baby in my back booth. I was appalled and made some choice comments about it to my friend, who was also a waitress and a few years older with children of her own. Boy, did she school me. A breastfeeding advocate, Teri taught me that breasts were for something other than flaunting and winning t-shirt contests. Breasts actually feed babies! And breastfeeding should not be done in a bathroom! And people like me shouldn’t make it difficult or uncomfortable for women to feed their children — keep our mouths shut! And redirect my eyes if I was bothered by a mom feeding her baby! It was in that moment that I knew I would be breastfeeding my future cherubs.
Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29, and my hopes of breastfeeding were gone, figuratively and literally.
Seven years after my diagnosis and bilateral mastectomies I had my first child, and 2 years later, I was blessed with a second. While breastfeeding was out for me, thanks to involved health care professionals and the generosity of two wonderful friends, my children received breast milk in the hospital and at home for several weeks. I am eternally grateful.
The benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk for the babies are numerous and are shouted from the playgrounds to the doctors’ offices. They include fewer and shorter episodes of illness. The colostrum, or first milk, is a gentle, natural laxative that helps clear baby’s intestine, decreasing the chance jaundice will occur. Breast milk benefits baby’s IQ. Sucking at the breast enhances development of baby’s oral muscles, facial bones, and aids in optimal dental development.
The benefits of breastfeeding for moms, however, seem to take a back seat.
- Did you know that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 20%?
- When breastfeeding, most women have fewer menstrual cycles, resulting in lower lifetime estrogen levels. Estrogen can encourage breast cancers to grow, especially cancers that are hormone-receptor positive.
- Making milk 24/7 limits breast cells’ ability to “misbehave,” meaning the breasts are doing what they were intended to do — breastfeed — so they aren’t just hanging out, absorbing hormone-disrupting chemicals that appear in so many products that are in, on, and around our bodies.
During this World Breastfeeding Week while working for Breastcancer.org, I can’t help but be reminded of my friend Teri. “Breasts actually feed babies! And breastfeeding should not be done in a bathroom! People shouldn’t make it difficult or uncomfortable for women to feed their children!” I, however, cannot shut my mouth. Women need to know, breastfeeding is as much for you and your breast health as it is for the health of your baby.
Happy World Breastfeeding Week! Spread the word or post your #breastfeeding selfie, if you feel inclined.