Diane Spatz - Special Feature

‘Breastfeeding Is a Newborn’s Best Medicine’

Phi Sig Exclusive: Dr. Diane Spatz shares the facts and fiction associated with
this critical healthcare topic.

March 9, 2011

BREASTFEEDING IS, ALMOST INEXPLICABLY, ONE OF THE LAST GREAT TABOOS in our culture. But Phi Sig’s own Dr. Diane Spatz is working hard to change that – in part, by educating lawmakers, healthcare providers and the public about the unparalleled benefits it offers to newborns and long-term child development.

“We need to get the word out that breastfeeding is good, and that it makes an enormous difference in the nutritional, developmental and immunological health of a newborn,” she explains. “In our society, that’s hard to do because people are more concerned about the image of breasts than their primary function, which is to be a source of nutrition for babies.”

Diane’s years of research and passion about the issue are finally helping to turn the tide – and earning her a place at the forefront of a national agenda on breastfeeding. In recent years, she’s increasingly called upon to give testimony to U.S. lawmakers and has become a key advocate for the Surgeon General’s ground-breaking “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.”

“We have to wake up as a culture and understand there’s a direct correlation between breastfeeding and both the mother’s and baby’s health,” Diane explains. “This is a huge public health issue! Fewer than 14% of infants in the United States receive the recommended exclusive human-milk diet for the first 6 months – mostly because women don’t receive sound research-based guidance or resources to do so.”

Informed and empowered

Some facts Diane would like Phi Sig sisters to understand about breastfeeding and lactation, two areas where she is seen as a preeminent researcher and expert:

  • A mother’s milk is specially tailored to the needs of her newborn. “Milk is bioactive, meaning its chemical composition changes according to the needs of the baby from the moment of birth through at least six months of age,” Diane explains. “It’s literally as if the mom’s body knows what her child needs, and it responds to provide those nutrients through the milk.” For example, if a baby is born prematurely, the mother’s milk has higher concentrations of nutrients and fat to compensate – helping to ensure the baby’s health.

  • Especially for newborns with serious health complications, a mother’s “first milk,” called colostrum, can make all the difference in the world. “It’s not a food. It’s more like medicine,” Diane says, explaining that even when new moms can’t breastfeed, they can provide milk by pumping and then feeding it to their babies. “Moms feel empowered knowing they’re doing something no one else can – something enormously beneficial when their babies need it most.”

  • Baby formulas are made from cow’s milk or soy and are not an equivalent replacement to mother’s milk, says Diane, whose latest research explores this very topic. “Human milk is different – and the more research we do, the more we realize mom’s milk is superior in every way.”

  • Women need research-based education and one-on-one guidance and support from a healthcare provider, such as from a nurse, to learn about breastfeeding and lactation. “Research shows that there’s so much misinformation out there – from women being told that they have to supplement their infant with formula to being given incorrect information about medication use when breastfeeding,” Diane says. “So it’s no surprise moms are confused! Women need to be empowered to make the choice to start breastfeeding and be given the tools (support, education, research-based intervention) so that all moms can be successful in achieving their personal breastfeeding goals.”

“Women have a choice,” Diane explains. “As more mothers are informed about the important role they play, more of them are choosing to breastfeed. For someone like me, who has made this my life’s work, it’s incredibly satisfying to see the message is finally getting through. That said,” she adds, “we still have a long way to go.”

Learn more about DR. DIANE SPATZ, one of Phi Sigma Sigma's top 100 alumnae.