Chapel Hill, N.C. — About 70 percent of North Carolina women start breast-feeding their babies when they are in the hospital. However, only about 8 percent of women practice exclusive breast-feeding through the first six months – as recommended by the U.S. Breast-feeding Committee.
Kelly Felten says it was an easy decision to refuse formula and breast-feed her daughter, Julia.
“Just based on the research, I knew it was the best thing for her, and I have a lot of friends who were very supportive,” she said.
Though nursing was uncomfortable for the first few weeks, Felten said she knew she was helping boost Julia's immunity to germs.
Research shows it also helps prevent long-term disease, like diabetes.
“Babies who are breast-fed end up with lower cholesterol levels, lower hypertension. They do better in school,” said Dr. Miriam Labbok, with the Carolina Breast-Feeding Institute.
Labbok says those benefits are more certain if mothers stick with nursing at least six months.
If they breast-feed even longer – up to two years – the mother's risk of developing diabetes and ovarian cancer is reduced. An aggressive form of breast cancer, basal cell, that is more common among African-American women is also affected by breast-feeding, researchers said.
“What this means is if African-American women choose to breast-feed, they can really reduce their risk of this type of breast cancer,” Labbok said.
Some argue breast-feeding has breast cancer prevention benefits for all women.
“My mother had breast cancer and my aunt, so when I learned about that, (it was) just one more for the pro (breast-feeding) column,” Felten said.
North Carolina lags behind the national average in the number of women who continue breast-feeding.
UNC and several other hospitals have a lactation clinic where women can come for help if they are experiencing problems nursing their babies, and sometimes a lactation specialist can even come to your home.