YOUNG Luciana Rosa has been breastfed since she was born in late January. Her mother, Rita, intends to continue until Luciana is at least six months old, if not a year.
'I want to breastfeed for as long as I can,' the first-time mother from Taylors Hill in Melbourne's north-west said yesterday. While Mrs Rosa, 30, said she was aware of the health benefits breastfeeding can bring for mother and infant, she said the main reason she chose to breastfeed was to cement the bond with her new daughter.
'I thought it's a good way to bond with the baby. My mother did it too and I think there are benefits to it,' she said.
Her experience, which she admits has been free of the problems some breastfeeding mothers endure, is one that health professionals worldwide want more mothers to share.
About 18 per cent of Australian mothers are still breastfeeding their infants at six months of age, a figure many health professionals want increased. The World Health Organisation and the National Health and Medical Research Council recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
According to the findings of an American study published yesterday, boosting the percentage of infants breastfed for the first six months of life could actually save lives, not to mention dollars.
The research suggests that in the US the lives of 911 babies could be saved each year if the percentage of mothers who breastfed their infants for the first six months of life rose from about 43 per cent to 90 per cent.
Increasing the breastfeeding rate would also save $US13 billion ($A14.1 billion) a year in medical costs, the study found. Researchers conducted a cost analysis of the prevalence of 10 common childhood illnesses and the direct costs associated with treating those diseases, as well as indirect costs such as missed time from work.
Lead author of the paper, Melissa Bartick from Harvard Medical School, said the health benefits linked to breastfeeding had been 'vastly under-appreciated'.
The findings, published online in the journal Pediatrics, suggest there are hundreds of deaths and many more costly illnesses each year from health problems that breastfeeding may help prevent. These include stomach viruses, ear infections, asthma, juvenile diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome and even childhood leukaemia.
Dr Rod Hunt, from the neonatal medicine department at the Royal Children's Hospital, said the overwhelming evidence was that breastfeeding was of benefit to both mother and child.