SAN ANTONIO - It’s the final days of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and breast milk advocates hope that they’ve made a difference when it comes to encouraging Hispanic and Latina mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies for at least the first several months.
Medical organizations differ on how long they feel mothers should offer only breast milk, but statistics show that in Latin American populations, the practice falls off dramatically after the first month -- far earlier than anyone recommends.
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One study shows that while 44 percent of Hispanic mothers breastfed exclusively in the hospital, only about 19 percent maintained exclusive breastfeeding in the month that followed.
Neonatologist Dr. Alice Gong with the UT Health Science Center explains that feeding breast milk exclusively is the only way to ensure that the intestines finish their development and provide a solid immune system.
"There is something called the microbiome. We've known about it before but now we are more aware of it. Breastfed babies have a normal microbiome with normal bacteria, as opposed to the pathogenic bacteria that they get if they were fed artificial formula,” she notes.
The other benefits are not immediately apparent, but just as important. Studies show breastfed babies grow up with lowered risk of diabetes, heart attack, cancer and obesity.
While these are all good reasons to continue, the fact is that the population with the highest incidence of diabetes and obesity is also the one with the lowest breastfeeding practices.
"It's natural, but it doesn't come naturally. We have gotten away from having aunts and grandmas and sisters that know about breastfeeding, so if you can't do it, you need to get help,” Gong said.
If you need help breastfeeding, there are lots of resources. One of those resources is La Leche League of Texas. Click here to visit its website.
To read an article on research into the benefits of breastfeeding, click here.
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