Many mothers-to be have heard about the benefits of breast-feeding. Breast-fed babies have fewer incidences of pneumonia, colds, ear infections, and intestinal infections; lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome; and better long-term weight control. Mothers who breast-feed heal more quickly after delivery, have lower risk of female cancers, and return to normal weight more quickly. And those are just the health benefits. Breast-feeding is less expensive than formula feeding, and easier too. When your baby needs to be fed, the breast milk is ready. No mixing or warming required. So why doesn't every new mom breast-feed her newborn? There are a couple of key reasons and a few ways to overcome them.
The first one is cultural. If your mother and grandmother and maybe even your partner's mother and grandmother all formula fed their children, it can be especially difficult to choose breast-feeding. You likely love and respect these women, and they may play a large role in helping you care for your new baby. They may be unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or even critical of your choice to breast-feed. Add this together with other family members' discomfort, and you may have a truly difficult time.
The solution to this problem is not easy either; you have to find a role model. The most readily available role models are the nurses and lactation consultants at the hospital or at the obstetrician or midwives practice you are using for prenatal care and the baby's primary care physician. Knowing the benefits, many of these health professionals are current or former breast feeders. They are often eager to share their professional—and personal — advice. In addition, they may be able to direct you to a group of moms who are also working to start or continue breastfeeding.
Your role models will also help with the second cultural issue that arises when breastfeeding: how public should I be? Women vary greatly on this point. The range of public breastfeeding behaviors begins with those who breastfeed only in private. The spectrum continues on to those who find a slightly more private place to breastfeed in public; those who use a nursing cover to breastfeed openly, but under cover; those who use their own clothing to cover; those who breastfeed overtly; and those who breastfeed so openly so as to make a political statement. There is no wrong way. If you are comfortable with your choice, your baby will be comfortable, too.
The second challenge is breastfeeding itself. Breastfeeding can be challenging; however, when you receive the proper support and professional care, it can be the most rewarding challenge of a mother's life. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified a few key factors that have been found to increase the likelihood of breastfeeding success. You can increase your likelihood of success by ensuring you follow the CDC recommendations in the first days of your baby's life.
Skin-to-skin contact is the practice that places a newborn directly on a mother's chest after birth for healthy newborn babies. The CDC recommends getting the baby to mom within five minutes of birth and to leave him or her there for at least an hour or until the baby initiates breast feeding. What's amazing is that the baby will! The baby will find the breast and go a long way to start nursing on his or her own.
From the moment your baby is born, spend as much time as possible in the same room. The CDC recommends 23 of 24 hours for healthy newborn babies. The practice of "rooming-in" helps mothers get acquainted with their babies, learn their babies' feeding cues, and establish breastfeeding patterns. Before delivery, be sure that you and your baby will be accommodated in the same room.
The last most important thing is professional support. The best delivery centers have lots of professional lactation consultants—a person specially trained to help women and babies breastfeed. Get all the help you can in the hospital or delivery center. In many areas, you can even arrange to have a lactation consultant visit you at home. Insurance companies—recognizing the health benefits of breastfeeding—often cover it 100 percent. Finally, you can often call or return to the hospital for additional support for months after your child is born.
Once you and your baby have become an experts at breastfeeding, the best thing you can do is become a role model for others. Share your experiences with those who are trying to decide how to feed their babies. Your example and encouragement could go a long way in helping other families provide the best start for their infants.
— Bridget Bromirski, PNP, IBCLC, is a pediatric nurse practitioner and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in Southwestern Vermont Medical Center's Women's and Children's Services Department. Those interested in learning more about breastfeeding can attend the Family Fun Walk for Breastfeeding Awareness starting at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, August 6 at Willow Park in Bennington. For more columns from the experts at Southwestern Vermont Health Care, visit svhealthcare.org/wellnessconnection.