ADA releases updated position paper on breastfeeding

CHICAGO — The American Dietetic Association has released an updated position paper on breastfeeding that details health benefits for both infants and mothers and encourages promotion of breastfeeding whenever possible.

ADA’s position paper, published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, represents the Association’s official stance on breastfeeding:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that exclusive breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition and health protection for the first 6 months of life and breastfeeding with complementary foods from 6 months until at least 12 months of age is the ideal feeding pattern for infants. Breastfeeding is an important public health strategy for improving infant and child morbidity and mortality and improving maternal morbidity and helping to control health care costs.

ADA’s position and accompanying paper were written by registered dietitians Delores C. S. James, associate professor of health education and behavior at the University of Florida; and Rachelle Lessen, a clinical nutritionist and lactation consultant at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The authors’ evidence-based review of breastfeeding’s history, practices and health benefits in the United States and other countries concludes:

  1. Exclusive breastfeeding with no foods or liquids other than breast milk provides optimal nutrition and health protection for the first six months of life.
  2. Breastfeeding with complementary foods from 6 months to at least 12 months is the ideal feeding pattern for infants.
  3. Human milk offers optimal nutrient composition for infants and reduces the risk for a large number of acute and chronic illnesses.
  4. Breastfeeding improves maternal health and well-being and saves families time and money.
  5. Support for breastfeeding mothers from families, friends, health-care professionals, hospitals and employers is an important public health strategy for increasing rates of breastfeeding initiation, duration and exclusivity.

According to ADA’s position paper, health benefits of breastfeeding for infants include:

  • Enhanced immune system
  • Reduced risk for nonspecific gastroenteritis, severe lower respiratory tract infections and asthma
  • Protection against allergies and intolerances
  • Promotion of correct development of jaw and teeth
  • Association with higher intelligence quotient and school performance through adolescence
  • Reduced risk for chronic disease such as obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and childhood leukemia
  • Reduced risk for sudden infant death syndrome.

Benefits for the mother include:

  • Strong bonding with infant
  • Increased calorie expenditure, which may lead to faster return to pre-pregnancy weight
  • Faster shrinking of the uterus
  • Reduced postpartum bleeding and delays in the menstrual cycle
  • Decreased risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and ovarian cancer
  • Improved bone density and decreased risk for hip fracture
  • Decreased risk for postpartum depression
  • Enhanced self-esteem in the maternal role
  • Time saved from preparing and mixing formula
  • Money saved from not buying formula and increased medical expenses associated with formula feeding.

“ADA recognizes the various factors that influence women and their families to choose a particular infant feeding method,” the authors write, “but ADA supports and advocates the position that breastfeeding is the optimal feeding method for the infant. (Registered dietitians and dietetic technicians, registered) have an important role in promoting and supporting breastfeeding for its short- and long-term health benefits for both mother and infants. RDs and DTRs also have an important role in conducting empirical research on breastfeeding-related topics. Research is especially needed on the effectiveness of breastfeeding promotion campaigns.”

The American Dietetic Association is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. ADA is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the American Dietetic Association at

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