While breastfeeding is natural, it’s not always easy. For World Breastfeeding Week Aug. 1-7, we asked Certified Lactation Counselor Sarah Mitchell for some tips to help make the process easier on mom and baby.
From increased infant immunity to improved maternal health and well-being, the benefits of breastfeeding are many. Still, only 60 percent of U.S. moms continue to breastfeed past their baby’s first six months for many reasons, including the mother’s need to return to work. We reached out to Sarah Mitchell, a certified lactation counselor at The Lactation Connection at Renown, for some expert advice.
Why is breastfeeding so important?
Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants with a near-perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything your baby needs to grow. And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria and lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies.
Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. The American Academy of Pediatrics says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor. Breastfeeding even has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies. Plus, the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure.
Does breast feeding provide benefits to the mother as well?
Absolutely! Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so it can help women lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding also lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and may lower the risk of osteoporosis, too. And since breastfeeding eliminates the need for buying and measuring formula, sterilizing nipples or warming bottles, it saves time and money. It also gives the mother regular time to relax and bond quietly with her newborn.
What Are Some Common Roadblocks to Breastfeeding?
Many new moms want to breastfeed. However, in the U.S., women aren’t necessarily living near close relatives who in other cultures provide essential education and support for new mothers. New moms can be discouraged at this emotional time and blame themselves for not getting it right. My No. 1 tip therefore is: Expect problems at first. Even in cultures where close to 100 percent of moms breastfeed, they can experience problems including getting the baby to “latch on,” sore nipples and milk production. It sometimes can take several weeks for mom and baby to get comfortable.
That brings me to my second tip: Line up a coach even before the baby is born. This can be a professional lactation coach, family member or friend who is experienced and encouraging. While online videos can be helpful, most new moms need the one-on-one guidance that a coach can provide. Renown offers outstanding resources in its Lactation Connection center, including expert consultants, products and support.
Tip number three is an extension of the coaching tip: Set up well ahead of the due date a support network of friends, family members or community groups such as La Leche League. Women historically have relied on extended support systems to help them with raising children, and breastfeeding is one of those areas that, while natural, still needs encouragement from the women who’ve been there.
My fourth tip is not to get discouraged if you need to supplement at times with formula. This, too, as it turns out, is not uncommon in other cultures. In other parts of the world, babies are given beverages and foods such as tea, broth, soup, juice, mashed bananas and papaya. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends supplementation only with approved formula — but the point is, it’s OK to supplement if you need to.
In our country, most women need to return to work after six weeks, or even sooner. What advice do you have for women who want to continue breastfeeding after going back to work?
First, have a plan for your workplace. Find supportive child care and discuss your plans to breastfeed there. Ask about how they would store your milk if you are planning on bringing some each day. Talk to your employer about how you plan to fit pumping into your schedule and where milk can be stored. You can help allay any concerns by explaining to your supervisor that research studies show breastfeeding mothers take less time off work because their babies tend to be healthier.
Second, plan for what happens at home, such as increased night-time nursing. Many babies will start breastfeeding more often during the night after you return home, especially during the first few weeks.
Finally, don’t forget the importance of breastfeeding for connecting with your baby. It’s essential to maintain breastfeeding over the weekends, preferably “on demand.” and will keep that special bond strong after you have returned to your job.
Does Renown Offer Assistance to Breastfeeding Moms?
The Lactation Connection offers breastfeeding forums at 4 p.m. Tuesdays at the Renown South Meadows campus and 11 a.m. Thursdays at Renown’s main campus. The Lactation Connection store, located at The Shops at Renown, also provides breast pump rentals and supplies, a scale for drop-in baby weight checks, a certified nursing bra fitter and other services. Call 775-982-5210 for information.