Don t wean too early: Surgeon General recommends six months of breast-feeding

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In a report issued Thursday, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin reminded mothers about the importance of breast-feeding their children for the first six months while also outlining plans to expand and improve community programs that provide support and peer counseling for moms.

Only one in ten babies are breast-fed exclusively for six months, even though 75 percent of babies start out breast-feeding. The shift may be attributed to one or more factors: a mother’s hectic schedule, especially those who work; inadequate milk production; inability of the baby to suckle sufficiently for good nutrition; or a lack of knowledge of how to get the infant to breast-feed properly.

Studies suggest that breast-feeding helps babies develop immunity and that it can protect them from such illnesses as diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia, the report says.

ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross agrees with the science. “An overwhelming body of evidence supports the beneficial health effects that breast-feeding during the first six months provides for the baby.” He has some quibbles with the report, however: “I don’t think that the Surgeon General’s assertion that breast-feeding reduces the subsequent development of obesity and sudden infant death syndrome is well-supported by the weight of the studies.”