Is breastfeeding really better? The intense debate on this question has been going on for decades — and is often controversial and emotionally discussed. Breastfeeding is more than just babies’ nutrition. It is associated with physical and psychological changes in both mother and child. The challenge for research is to determine the different effects of breastfeeding for mothers and babies. The new ‘special issue’ provides a scientific overview of the topic ‘breastfeeding in Germany’.
It focuses in particular on the prevalence of breastfeeding, the benefits and potential risks, as well as the steps to promote breastfeeding. In conclusion, the positive effects of breastfeeding for mother and child are clearly validated.
This special issue was created and produced with the support of the National Breastfeeding Committee at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).
Breast milk is a complex liquid food with a wide range of ingredients. It has been developed and optimised over millions of years of evolution. From a scientific perspective, however, the challenge is to determine the effect of breastfeeding for mother and child more precise. It is difficult to conduct controlled studies on this topic, and there is often a lack of long-term data. Furthermore there is no full-coverage national breastfeeding monitoring (programme) in Germany. Based on the available data, it is still not possible to determine the frequency and duration of breastfeeding according to standardised scientific criteria.
The authors of the “special issue” deal with these methodological problems and outline concepts for a systematic data collection in Germany. One of the articles in the “special issue” contains first updated data on breastfeeding from the German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents (KiGGS). Another item compares breastfeeding rates and the promotion of breastfeeding in certain European countries. Two further articles describe positive short and long-term effects for mother and child, when the mothers follow the recommendation to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first four to six months. Their babies have a lower risk for respiratory infections and are less likely suffering from overweight and diabetes mellitus type 2. However, foreign substances and pathogens can still pose risks to the infants’ health.
In the end, the experts introduce potential fields of action to promote breastfeeding. In a study on public perceptions of breastfeeding in Germany of the BfR, one out of ten mothers called the negative public attitude towards breastfeeding as the cause that they had already weaned (their babies).