A Better Start
How has such a personal choice become such a public issue? First, medical experts today roundly agree that babies are best served by breast milk, and breast milk only, for their first six months of life. The AAP recommends that babies continue to drink breast milk once they start solids, until at least 12 months, and the WHO goes even further, urging moms to provide their infants breast milk along with other foods until their kids are 2. “The longer you can breastfeed, the better,” says Margreete Johnston M.D., a Tennessee pediatrician and member of the AAP's breastfeeding section. “The immune system benefits alone, particularly in the first year, are enormous.” Breastfed babies are less likely to have ear infections, gastrointestinal illnesses and pneumonia early in life, and obesity-related issues like Type 2 diabetes later. They're also more protected against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) — possibly because breastfeeding babies eat more frequently than formula-fed ones, making moms more aware of their sleeping rhythms, says Dr. Johnston. Breastfeeding moms benefit too: They're less likely to develop diabetes and breast and ovarian cancers, and — bonus! — tend to peel off pregnancy pounds sooner. “It's something your body is built to do, and that the vast majority of women can do,” says Perrine. That attitude has become standard in many circles, especially in the Pacific North-west and New England — “places where there tends to be a lot of breastfeeding support, such as lactation consultants and laws to protect public breastfeeding,” Perrine says.
That was truly the case for Lauren Hartman, 27, of Portland, Oregon, a state where more than 9 of 10 women says Hartman. Four months later, she was still nursing Fern — at home, at restaurants, even walking through the aisles of a grocery store. “Around here, everyone just assumes you breastfeed,” she says. “If you formula-feed, it's almost as if you're an outcast.”