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Nutrition is a critical capstone for the proper growth and development of infants. Breastfeeding of term infants by healthy mothers is the optimal mechanism for providing the caloric and nutrient needs of infants. Preterm infants can also benefit from breast milk and breastfeeding although supplementation and fortification of preterm breast milk may be required. Barring some unique circumstances, human breast milk can provide nutritional, social, and motor developmental benefits for most infants.

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Despite increased emphasis on breastfeeding education, according to the 2005 National Immunization Survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control, approximately 75% of women chose to initiate breastfeeding. Of these women, only 43.1% were still breastfeeding at 6 months, and 21.4% of infants were still receiving breast milk at 1 year. The Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2010 initiative proposes to increase these numbers to 50% and 25% for infants at 6 and 12 months, respectively. The rates of women who were exclusively breastfeeding without formula supplementation were even lower with only 31.5% and 11.9% of infants ages 3 and 6 months, respectively, doing so. There are still, however, disparities associated with these rates, specifically for African American women. Breastfeeding rates are about 50% lower among all ages regardless of income or educational level in comparison to Caucasian women. Education of practitioners as well as their patients is an integral component of this initiative.

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Most women presently of childbearing age were not breast-fed and report having no maternal relatives who breast-fed their children. Because evidence clearly suggests familial influences in the development of infant feeding practices, practitioners may find it difficult to encourage breastfeeding behaviors among women with no direct familial breastfeeding experience.

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Efforts to alter knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors regarding breastfeeding must effectively address the numerous psychosocial barriers. Health care providers are critical conduits for maternal and familial education. All members of the health care team, including physicians, midwives, and nurses, are valuable sources of important evidence-based information as well as psychological support for mothers in search of guidance regarding infant feeding practices. Unless health care practitioners are properly educated regarding breastfeeding practices and barriers, efforts to achieve the Healthy People 2010 objectives will remain suboptimal.

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Numerous studies have shown the superiority of breast milk and the health advantages that breast-fed children have. The literature has shown that infants who are breast-fed have fewer episodes of diarrheal illness, ear infections, and allergies. Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 4 months in infants at risk for developing atopic disease decreases the cumulative incidence of atopic dermatitis. Lower rates of childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and leukemia have also been associated with breastfeeding. There are likewise financial advantages to breastfeeding. Other somewhat controversial investigations suggest higher intelligence among breast-fed infants.

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There are also Maternal benefits to breastfeeding. Mothers who breast-feed are less likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer. An association with decreased rates of ...

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