The American Academy of Pediatrics has released new guidelines today recommending mothers continue breastfeeding through childbearing age, middle-age and well into menopause as long as mutually desired*. This policy change comes amidst a growing body of evidence that sustained breastfeeding protects women from a number of illnesses, conditions and cumbersome familial, social and employment obligations throughout their lifetime. Research published last month in the journal Suboptimal Studies of Breastfeeding found women who continued lactating well after their children left home reported they weren't totally exhausted, depressed or stressed by social isolation. "Our study shows breastfeeding has a positive effect on women" said lead research Sharon Hamm, Ph.D., M.D., M.P.H., Director of the Breast Is Best Institute in Berekely, California. "These results amazed me. I was surprised how fit and happy breastfeeding would keep these women. I didn't anticipate it." Dr. Hamm will present these findings as the keynote speaker next month at the Breastfeeding For Social Good Symposium in Brooklyn, New York, where she will also lead the Breastfeed 4 Life Rally. Although she and her colleagues have not yet published further findings from their Post Menopausal Lactation Project, she noted "our data show not breastfeeding for decades puts women at risk."
Women choose sustained breastfeeding for a variety of reasons. Some continue lactating for the health benefits, some for the financial benefits and others simply the satisfaction of helping others. "I find it's a good way to give back to the community" explained lactation expert Sylvia White, a grandmother of three who donates her supply to Mama Latte, a local human milk bank. "Besides, after nursing my own children and grandchildren, I didn't really have many hobbies, friends or marketable job skills."
Although the FDA has not yet confirmed the safety of consuming human milk from older women including post-menopausal ones, according to experts there is not much reason for concern or caution."I might not give it to a premature infant" said pediatrician Robert Peters who was not involved with the study,"but I would drink it myself, maybe" though he declined to specify whether he'd give it to his own children.
Others voiced more enthusiasm to put post-menopausal milk to good use. Health-conscious consumers have started seeking out breast milk for its natural, organic, raw properties. "We've been noticing more interest in expressed post-menopausal breast milk among adults who are eager to try it themselves" reported Jessica Burley of advocacy group Lact Up. Jennifer Finebody, a wellness consultant and owner of the online boutique Udder Heaven highly recommends women and men introduce some breast milk into their regular diets. "It's not just for babies. Breast milk makes a great smoothie."
Experts urge women to consult their health care provider, life coach or Facebook friends before deciding whether to continue or start lactating beyond the prime childbearing decade.
*Mutually desired by the mother's overworked mammary glands.