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Friday, August 28, 2009

Breastfeeding: One of the most important decisions a new mom makes

By Cherrie Welch, M.D., M.P.H. Neonatologist and Pediatrician at Brenner Children’s Hospital

One of a mother's first decisions is "Should I breastfeed my new baby?" There are many opinions as to what choice a new mom should make. As a pediatrician and neonatologist, I am always encouraging new mothers to breastfeed their infants. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important first decisions a new mom makes and can significantly impact how a baby develops and grows.

There have been numerous public health campaigns to increase awareness of the health benefits for breastfeeding mother and baby diads. In spite of these efforts, only 60%of mothers nationally even attempt to breastfeed and many fewer continue breastfeeding their infant for six months ... the minimum time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

To highlight just a few of the benefits, infants who are breastfed are less likely to develop infections during infancy, as well as a variety of other serious disorders throughout their lifetime, including:

 Type 1 diabetes
 Type 2 diabetes
 Lymphoma and leukemia
 Obesity
 High cholesterol
 Asthma

In addition, children who were breastfed have been found, on average, to have a slightly higher IQ than those children who were fed only formula.

Researchers at Brenner Children’s Hospital, part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, continue to study the health benefits of mother’s milk, particularly for infants born prematurely. A study is currently underway to investigate the effects of omega-3 fatty acids, an important component of breast milk, on the developing gastrointestinal tract. Another study is being conducted to determine the effect of breast milk on the maturation of brain waves in preterm infants.

New moms should seek the advice of other breastfeeding mothers, their primary care physicians and lactation consultants to help with feeding issues during the early months. Stick with it. New moms who learn to breastfeed and continue for a month are on the road to success.

Another potential issue is milk production. It is very rare for a mother to physically not be able to breastfeed her infant. One potential reason for an inability to produce milk is prior breast surgery, although many women who have had breast surgery can successfully breastfeed. If a woman can physically not produce milk, then, of course formula or pasteurized human milk from a donor milk bank are acceptable alternatives. Frustration with breastfeeding can also contribute to a mom’s ability to continue to breastfeed, as well as lack of sleep and the demands of caring for a newborn. A lactation consultant can provide tips on how to overcome these issues and help a new mom on her way to successful breastfeeding.

For women with large or inverted nipples, there are now several aids available to help the baby latch on and lactation consultants can teach mothers how to use these. If the baby cannot latch on with these, a mother should consider pumping her breasts and providing the breast milk via bottle. One of the many great things about breast milk is that it is free!

One of the main factors influencing a woman’s decision to breastfeed is the support she has from family and friends to do so. Most mothers make this decision during, or even prior to, the pregnancy. However, research has shown that mothers who initially decide against it can be encouraged to successfully breastfeed and thus provide their infant with all of the known, and yet unknown, benefits of nature’s best infant nutrition. Some breast milk is better than none. Many mothers see breastfeeding as an all or nothing game, but infants can attain benefit from even small amounts of their mother’s milk.

And just because a mother wasn’t successful breastfeeding her first child, does not mean that she shouldn’t try breastfeeding subsequent children. Each child is different. I would encourage new mothers to try again. They might be surprised with the results.

It takes patience and a willingness to try, but the rewards are endless.

Share your thoughts with us!


Naomi said...

Breastfeeding my two was one of the most rewarding AND most difficult things I've ever done. They were both refluxers, and feedings were never easy or relaxing like I hoped they would be.

I was always very glad I stuck with it, but I would have loved for there to be more support systems in place for nursing moms.

The Chapples said...

I am currently breastfeeding and my 10 month old son is starting to wean himself. I am so sad about this! I miss that sweet time together. Meanwhile, my pump is getting a lot of use!

I personally believe it's the best thing for baby (and mom!).

Rebecca said...

Excellent advice! Thank you.

Summer said...

I think this article is spot on when it briefly mentions the support of family and friends. Having some you love and trust on your side those first three weeks can make a WORLD of difference. I have successfully nursed our four kids for the first year of their lives, but I feel confident I wouldn't have been able to nurse the twins without my husband's help those first weeks.

Some of the benefits to the mother especially include a feeding system that is always available, always the right temperature, and low maintenance!
I am lazy, and I hate dishes, breastfeeding seemed like the best choice for me and it has definitely worked well for our family. Like Chapples pointed out, it is a little sad when it's time to wean.

Maythi said...

Nice post, although I think people who decide not to breastfeed should not be hounded about their decision. It is a PERSONAL decision and breastfeeding just isn't for everyone.
I understand there are benefits to breastfeeding, but there are also benefits to formula feeding. I did so with both my daughters and I would say they have been less ill than most of my friends' babies that were breastfed and I am not sure I believe it impacts a baby's development and growth as much as everyone wants us to believe it does. I was not breastfed, my sister was not breastfed, my husband and his 2 siblings were not breastfed, and we are all healthy, smart, thriving adults.
I was appalled at how I was treated by nurses (after having my first) when I stated I was absolutely NOT breastfeeding. Maybe I got a nurse on a soap box, but as this article states, "it is one of the most important decisions a NEW MOM makes", not the most important decision a nurse makes, or a physician makes, or your friends make. Once again, it is a personal choice and I think we also need to start supporting women who decide breastfeeding is not the right choice for them.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that it's a very personal decision. I breast fed both of my children, but was much less successful with my first child. I produced so much foremilk that he was very sensitive to it and would often feed for half an hour then vomit up everything and fall asleep with the effort. Pumping beforehand didn't help because it just made my milk production go even more crazy. It was so hard on both of us that I decided to wean him at six months when both of us got roseola and he was too sick to eat much. The worst part about this was the treatment I got from the lactation consultant when I called and described how much trouble I was having. She talked to me for a little bit, explained what was going on, and then said, "So, I guess I will put this down on the log as Failure to Breastfeed Properly" or something like that. After the phone call I broke down in tears.

My second child was a piece of cake—no problems, no vomiting, and almost no formula. I weaned him at 14 months when he started lifting my shirt to get a drink! I am so glad I tried it again.

Ameda Ultra said...

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