As a doctor and a mother to three children, I understand the benefits of breastfeeding for both moms and babies. I also know from personal experience and from my patients the challenges that we experience as moms specifically related to breastfeeding. I am a mother to a three-year-old who exclusively breastfed his first year, and 16-month-old twins who received both breast milk and formula during their first year of life.
Regardless of how a woman chooses to feed her baby, we all try to be the best mothers we can be. As a physician, I’m motivated to share the information in this blog because I want moms and their babies to reap all the health benefits they can. I also want you to know that there are resources to help you reach your breastfeeding goals – whether that is to provide breast milk while in the hospital, while on maternity leave from work or at home full time, for the first six months or for a year.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Your Baby
Research has shown that there are significant benefits for babies who are breastfed. These include:
- Reduced frequency of gastrointestinal illness (vomiting and diarrhea)
- Fewer respiratory infections
- Fewer ear infections
- Reduced incidence of:
- Childhood cancer (leukemia and lymphoma)
Breastfeeding Benefits for You
Research also shows that moms who breastfeed reduce their health risks, leading to a healthier life. Specifically:
- Decreased risk of developing invasive breast cancer (4.3 percent for every 12 months spent breastfeeding!)
- Decreased risk of ovarian cancer
- Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Decreased risk of type II diabetes
- Increased economic benefits
- A cost savings of about $1,000 a year
- Less money spent on doctor visits with a sick infant and time missed at work
The Healthy People 2020 goals for breastfeeding show that as a society we are close to achieving the goals for moms to begin breastfeeding with their newborn baby, but fall short when it comes to the continuation of breastfeeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life. The reality is that 14 percent of babies continue to receive only breast milk at six months and 43 percent of babies receive a combination of breast milk and formula at six months.
Research shows that most moms quit breastfeeding within the first month due to a perception that their milk supply is insufficient to feed and keep their newborn baby full and healthy. This is a terrible feeling; no mother wants to feel as if she is starving her baby!
Baby Facts to Build Breastfeeding Confidence
An awareness of certain baby facts can help ease fears and build confidence in breastfeeding, helping you provide health benefits to your baby and yourself:
- Your baby will lose weight after birth, and this is normal. It’s not a reflection of your breastfeeding skills. Don’t be discouraged or lose hope!
- Generally after 14 days, babies should return to their birth weight and start gaining 0.5-1 ounce per day.
- Babies eat eight-12 times a day. Because breast milk is composed mostly of water, it is normal for babies to eat every two-three hours. Moms often feel that they are not making enough milk because their babies want to eat frequently, but think how many times we as adults put food or drink in our mouths throughout the day – a lot more than we think! Babies behave similarly; they don’t always need to nurse 30 minutes – sometimes they just want a “snack.”
- Using “feeding cues” for your baby can help. This is a simple as placing your baby either skin-to-skin or to your breast while he/she is starting to wake up, before the baby starts crying. Babies will smell the milk and their interest in feeding will be stimulated (kind of like waking up to the smell of bacon or coffee for adults).
Resources to Help You
As a physician I encourage my patients attempt breastfeeding their children, but every woman will have different goals. I try to help my patients achieve their goals by providing any help that I am able to provide myself, or by making appropriate referrals.
Many pediatricians will have someone who is able to assist breastfeeding mothers in their office. Additional resources include:
- Bryan Health lactation consultants: 402-481-7103
- Saint Elizabeth lactation consultants: 402-219-7471
- MilkWorks: 402-423-6402
- La Leche League of Lincoln: www.llluse.org/web/LincolnNE.html
- Women Infants and Children: 402-441-8655
The most important thing to remember as a mom is you are not alone. We all go through the same fears, joys and uncertainties. My best advice: Reach out to each other and your health care providers, ask questions and seek support knowing this will help you be the best mom you can be. We’re all in this together.