Monday, July 2, 2012

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

There’s a lot to be said about breastfeeding. It’s a great way to burn calories while doing something beneficial for baby (and what mother doesn’t like to multi-task?), and it’s linked to lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also saves parents time and money. Bottle feeding requires mom or dad to warm up a bottle (even at 3:00 in the morning), mix formula, and wash bottles and nipples. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, formula and feeding supplies can cost $1,500 a year. The beauty of breast milk is that it’s free and readily accessible.

It’s about baby
But breastfeeding is really about baby. A mother’s body produces colostrum during pregnancy and right after birth. This thick yellowish milk is full of nutrients and antibodies that protect your baby. A few days later, mature milk provides the exact amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein needed to help your baby grow. “Breast milk helps the gastrointestinal tract mature and boosts the immune function,” says Gail Callaway, MD, pediatrician and internist at Smithsburg Family Medical Center.

Breastfeeding comes easy—or not so easy
So why doesn’t every mother breastfeed? Well, it can be challenging, painful, and time-consuming. There’s a skill to breastfeeding and it requires mom to relax, but when your baby is screaming for its only source of food—it’s not relaxing. Then there’s positioning a baby for breastfeeding. Do you use the football, cradle, or side-lying hold? Again, stressful stuff for a new mom who thinks she may break her baby. Some mothers develop sore nipples, plugged ducts, and engorgement. This turns something nurturing into something painful.

Make it work
Here are some ways you can stack the breastfeeding deck in your favor.
  • Get some help. Not all moms are great breast feeders out of the gate. Lactation consultants provide coaching during and after your hospital stay, and Meritus Health offers breastfeeding classes on a regular basis. 
  • Prime your newborn. When breastfeeding isn’t working, Dr. Callaway suggests giving baby ½ to 1 ounce of infant formula. “Sometimes babies get so hungry they can’t latch on. Offering a bottle helps baby’s blood sugar rise and gets her primed for breastfeeding,” says Dr. Callaway. A brief bout of bottle-feeding can also help mom understand how her baby’s mouth works for a better breastfeeding technique. 
  • Keep the milk flowing. Even if you can’t get your baby to breastfeed, you can rent a hospital-grade electric pump from a medical supply store like Equipped for Life and express your milk into bottles. Dr. Callaway notes that milk production can be less when strictly pumping so you may need to supplement breast milk with infant formula. 
  • Protect yourself by using a silicon nipple shield. The shield acts as a skin barrier and creates a stronger latch for the baby (also sold at a medical supply store). 
  • Let dad give it a go. For moms returning to work, or needing more shuteye, investing in an electric breast pump provides a stash of breast milk—and lets dad and baby bond during bottle-feeding. Worried about nipple confusion? Dr. Callaway says that babies like to suck and most will adjust. 
  • Know your rights. Most states have laws to uphold your choice to breastfeed in public. Buy an apron-like nursing cover so you can nurse in public while remaining stylishly modest. If you’re returning to work, talk to your supervisor about a private room with a locking door. 

Breast feeding is not for everyone
“For some moms, breastfeeding is just not them, and that’s okay,” adds Dr. Callaway. “Do what works for you.” Today’s infant formula contains DHA and ARA, omega-3 fatty acids found in breast milk, which help promote brain development. Talk to your pediatrician about formula choices and over-the-counter vitamin D supplements for baby’s bone and teeth development.

By: Anne Gill

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