Healthy families begin with healthy babies, and breastfed babies have less risk for infections, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, chronic conditions and unhealthy weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cells, hormones and antibodies in breast milk protect babies from illness. This protection is unique and changes to meet your baby's needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months.

We all agree that breastfeeding is the gold standard and about 81 percent of new moms start out doing it. But six months later, just 52 percent of those moms are still breastfeeding exclusively. Life can get in the way, especially if a new mom has to go back to work and deal with pumping, milk leakage, or engorgement, which is the uncomfortably full, heavy breasts some moms experience when their baby is not nursing enough.

It can be tough, but keep in mind is that any amount of breastfeeding is better than none.

Research suggests that breastfed babies have lower risks of:

Asthma

Childhood leukemia

Childhood obesity

Ear infections

Eczema

Diarrhea and vomiting

Lower respiratory infections

Necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in pre-term infants

Sudden infant death syndrome

Type 2 diabetes

Breastfeeding also helps a mother’s health and healing following childbirth. It contributes to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of breast cancer and ovarian cancer in mothers.

How does breastfeeding compare to formula-feeding?

-Formula can be harder for your baby to digest. For most babies, especially premature babies, breast milk substitutes such as formula are harder to digest. Formula is made from cow’s milk, and it often takes time for babies’ stomachs to adjust to something other than breast milk.

-Life can be easier for you when you breastfeed. When you routinely breastfeed, there are no bottles and nipples to sterilize. You do not have to buy, measure, and mix formula, and there are no bottles to warm in the middle of the night! When you breastfeed, you can satisfy your baby’s hunger right away.

-Not breastfeeding costs money. Formula and feeding supplies can cost well over $1,500 each year. Breastfed babies may also be sick less often, which can help keep your baby’s health costs lower.

-Breastfeeding keeps mother and baby close. Physical contact is important to newborns. It helps them feel more secure, warm, and comforted. Mothers also benefit from this closeness. The skin-to-skin contact boosts levels of oxytocin, a hormone that helps breast milk flow and can calm the mother.

Here in Yakima, Virginia Mason Memorial’s Family Birthplace sends up to 60 percent of its new moms home exclusively breastfeeding. Nurses place babies skin-to-skin with their mothers for 60 minutes immediately after birth and help mothers recognize and respond to feeding cues. VMM practices “rooming-in,” to allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day. It also refers new mothers to outpatient and community support so they continue breastfeeding after going home — to get their babies off to the healthiest start possible.