Your goals are admirable and should only be encouraged. You are correct, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Family Practitioners (AAFP), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) all recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breast for at LEAST one year, and then for as long as mutually desired by the mother and child. In fact, the AAFP says that children weaned before age 2 are at increased risk for illness. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) all recommend breastfeeding for at least 2 years. A US Surgeon General has mentioned that it is a lucky child that continues nursing until age two.
To begin with, breastfeeding is the biological norm. Breastmilk contains all of essential nutrients, and is not a static "recipe." The composition of breastmilk is constantly changing in accordance to the child's nutritional and immunological needs; it cannot be duplicated in a laboratory. The number one reason to breastfeed is that it is the normal and natural way to feed a child. Any other method is simply abnormal, unnatural, and sub-optimum. Luckily formula is available for dire situations; however, formula is never a desirable, optimal solution.
The vast majority of women produce enough breastmilk to nourish their children when breastfeeding early, often, and on demand. The inability to produce enough breastmilk is a myth propagated into reality by “baby scheduling.” The WHO states: “Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family, the health care system and society at large.” Shame on the members of society that perpetuate these myths and undermine other women’s efforts.
Breastfeeding and breastmilk considerably reduce the risk of ear infections, gastrointestinal infections, upper respiratory infections, type I diabetes, obesity (and therefore type II diabetes), eczema, asthma, breast cancer, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the infant and ovarian cancer, breast cancer, type II diabetes, and postpartum depression in the mother.
These conditions and disease are all of significant public health importance. Obesity and type II diabetes are abound in epidemic proportions in our country. Both are significant risk factors for heart disease, the leading cause of death in this country. Cancers are the second leading cause of death. Primary prevention is essential in reducing health care costs, and breastmilk is a natural, normal, free resource that offers preventative qualities. It certainly is "for the greater good" to encourage and facilitate breastfeeding.
Can breastfeed infants still be afflicted by these conditions? Of course. There are genetic propensities towards these diseases and conditions that breastfeeding cannot surmount. However, breastfeeding can shorten the duration and severity of the illness. Furthermore, breastfeeding mothers are better equipped to nurture and comfort, especially during times of illness. Breastfeeding can only help, not hurt. The same cannot be said for formula.
Barriers due to work are most often cited as reasons for not breastfeeding. Full time work and full time breastfeeding are not mutually exclusive! Supportive, conducive worksites are of utmost importance, as is society’s support. One should not have to choose between her military career and her child. There is no need for military service to exclude one from childbearing and rearing. Deployments are certainly unique situations. However, a deferment should be available, especially considering the public health implications of not breastfeeding. I agree with GoGo Girls, check with your chain of command, and perhaps your physician.
The Navy offers a 12 month deferment! That is a great policy. I’m hesitant to say that Naval women are “lucky” because this should not be a privilege, but a requirement. The Marine Corps offers 6 months, and the Army and Air Force offer 4 months. The other branches could certainly learn from the Navy.
Finally, I applaud your service. Thank you and your husband so much for your brave commitment to our country. I appreciate the freedom you afford our nation every day. Many families do not serve our country at all; however, both you and your husband daily make sacrifices to boldly defend our great country; that is quite admirable. Furthermore, your forethought in considering your unborn children is admirable. Thank you for all that you do.
-Rebecca, MPH candidate and nursing mother
AAP Policy Statement Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk
AAFP Breastfeeding, Family Physicians Supporting (Position Paper)
ACOG Committee Opinion No. 361: Breastfeeding: maternal and infant aspects.
UNICEF Infant and Young Child Feeding