Importance of Breast Feeding

By Mario Ritter

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

Doctors are concerned that women in industrial nations are not breast-feeding their babies long enough. Now, two new scientific studies show how important breast-feeding is to both babies and mothers.

A recent medical study shows that breast-feeding improves the health of babies. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers studied more than seventeen-thousand mothers and their babies in the former Soviet Republic of Belarus. Almost all the mothers breast-fed their babies. However, one-half of the mothers breast-fed longer than the other half.

The study found that the babies who were breast-fed for longer periods of time had forty percent fewer infections of the stomach and intestines. The research also showed that these babies had fewer skin problems.

Michael Kramer of McGill University in Montreal, Canada was one of the research leaders. Doctor Kramer says the number of mothers who do not breast-feed is too high. He says many mothers stop breast-feeding too early, or give their babies solid food too early.

The other study was done in Shandong Province, China. Researchers from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut carried out the study. They studied more than seven-hundred Chinese women.

The study found that women who breast-fed their babies for more than two years reduced their risk of developing breast cancer by about fifty percent. The study compared women who breast-fed for two years and women who did so for only six months. The researchers also noted that women who breast-fed for at least seventy-three months during their life had a much lower risk of breast cancer.

The study did not explore why breast-feeding may reduce the risk of breast cancer. One theory is that breast-feeding suppresses the hormone estrogen which has been linked to breast cancer.

Women in China and other developing countries normally breast-feed their babies for two years or longer. This is not true in the United States. American government health studies show that sixty-four percent of mothers breast-fed after giving birth. But only about thirty percent continue after six months. Public health officials want more American women to breast-feed their babies for at least one year.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Mario Ritter.

Voice of America Special English