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Home News World Breast-feeding Week spotlights lifelong benefits of nursing

World Breast-feeding Week spotlights lifelong benefits of nursing

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The Military Health System joins medical organizations and communities around the world to celebrate World Breast-feeding Week from Aug. 1 - 7. The goal is to promote optimal health for mothers and newborns by providing families with a better understanding about the benefits of nursing a child. Breast-feeding also supports the MHS concept of moving from “health care to health.”         

“The MHS is dedicated to educating pregnant mothers so they can make the choice of whether to breast-feed. We talk about the optimal nutrition provided by nursing for a child’s body and brain development, as well as the health benefits for the mother,” said Theresa Hart, nurse consultant and program manager for Perinatal, Pediatrics and Special Medical Programs at the Defense Health Agency.            

Hart said breast-feeding support is a type of preventative care—a measure that underscores the MHS vision for patients to shift to healthier lifestyles. It also aligns with the July 1, 2015, announcement by TRICARE to expand coverage for breast pumps and breast-feeding supplies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend that a mother exclusively breast-feed her newborn for six months to achieve optimal growth development and health. Breast-feeding can continue for two years and beyond, said Hart.            

“Up to 6 months of age, an infant’s total nutritional needs are being met with breast milk,” she explained. “If you are breast-feeding up to the point that they begin eating solid food, the nursing is a supplement and no longer their primary source of nutrition. Still, babies get the bulk of their nutrition from breast milk. It is easily digestible, and it is made for humans.”            

The composition of breast milk changes according to an infant’s needs, said Hart. She said the milk a mother produces for her 6-month-old baby is very different from the milk she produced for her newborn.

“If you have a 26-week baby, a very early infant, you will make very different milk than somebody who has a baby who is 36-weeks-old,” Hart explained. “Breasts become more efficient and actually the composite of the milk changes, which is a pretty amazing physiology.”

For mothers, breast-feeding promotes hormonal balancing and post partum weight loss, as long as a mother maintains reasonable eating habits. Hart said mothers should not feel they need to add large portions of food to their diet if they are breast-feeding.

“Some people feel, as long as I am breast-feeding, I need to eat more,” said Hart. “When you breast-feed, you only need between 200 to 300 extra calories a day, which is a little tub of yogurt, or a granola bar. And the benefits for mother and baby last a lifetime.”            

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015 established a provision to cover breast-feeding supplies support and counseling. Accordingly, the newly announced TRICARE policy set forth a retroactive effective date of Dec. 19, 2014. To learn more about TRICARE’s breast pump policy, breast pump supplies and breast-feeding counseling, visit the TRICARE website.

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