In recent years, I’ve been impressed by many of the new mothers who express a desire to breastfeed. Most are successful, but unfortunately, many struggle and decide not to breastfeed despite the well-known benefits associated with nursing. I believe that if doctors, nurses, and new mothers work together in four critical areas, there will be an increased likelihood for breastfeeding success.
The first step consists of doctors and nurses discussing the many benefits of breastfeeding with mothers. I like to give new mothers a “pep talk” when I first see them in the hospital (unless they have already decided not to nurse, or it appears they won’t be successful because of health considerations). I tell them that besides the development of vaccines and the advent of indoor plumbing, breast milk may provide more health benefits than any other medical or social intervention. breast-fed babies have better intestinal development; are less prone to various types of infections, including pneumonia, sepsis, and diarrhea; and will have as much as 50 percent fewer ear infections. And these benefits occur just beyond the breastfeeding stage.
Amazingly, other numerous health benefits persist long after nursing has ended and into adolescence and even adulthood including: lower rates of asthma, allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis, food allergies, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, crohn’s disease, appendicitis, celiac disease, arthritis, and cholesterol triglycerides. breast-fed babies also benefit from better vision, hearing, and higher IQs. In addition, breastfeeding is economical and convenient: There are no bottles to wash, the milk is always the right temperature, and there is an estimated cost savings of between $1000 to $2000 in formula and sick visits during the first year of life. exclusive breastfeeding for the first five to six months of a baby’s life produces most of these benefits.
2. The next step healthcare professionals can take is to offer help, support, and encouragement in initiating nursing. In my experience, the number one reason mothers are not successful at breastfeeding is an early introduction of the bottle. Well-meaning doctors and nurses often discourage nursing by letting the mother sleep through initial feedings and offering a bottle instead. Or, a mother may worry she won’t have enough milk to satisfy the baby. However, the majority of babies are well sustained with the colostrum a mother produces in the first few days following birth. For this reason, doctors and nurses need to reassure mothers that their babies will be adequately fed with only breast milk and encourage them to nurse on demand. Obvious exceptions to this rule include babies with hypoglycemia, excess weight loss, or other serious conditions.
3. A third and crucial step to ensure continued breastfeeding includes educating mothers who plan on returning to work about effective pumping and bottle-feeding. Bottles of pumped breast milk should be introduced to the baby no earlier than two weeks of age when breastfeeding routines are well established. At this point, a baby can then learn to take breast milk from a bottle and continue to nurse the majority of the time. This gradual introduction of the bottle enables both mother and baby to prepare for her return to work, where she can continue to pump.
4. Finally, successful breastfeeding depends on a mother’s ability to avoid the loss of breast milk after a baby’s demands change. Many mothers don’t realize a baby’s feedings will increase during a growth spurt, which in turn increases the mother’s milk supply if she continues to nurse on demand. Instead, some mothers often feel they can’t satisfy the baby because he or she wants to nurse again only an hour or two after the last feeding.
This leads many mothers to believe that the baby requires supplementation with a bottle of formula. But offering formula during a growth spurt has the consequence of decreasing the number of feedings per day and causing a decrease in milk production, which can cause a total loss of breast milk. Mothers need to understand that during certain growth phases, the baby needs to eat every one to two hours, which in turn increases her milk supply after a few days. A woman’s body will normally regulate to the baby’s changing needs. Simple interventions and encouragement like these at birth, the two-week checkup, and in the ensuing months can mean the difference between breastfeeding success and discouragement.
Both mother and child can reap long-term benefits from breastfeeding. For more information about breastfeeding, talk to your pediatrician. Also, feel free to join the Intermountain Moms Facebook
page to join other mothers in sharing advice asking questions.