Making The Breast of It
Deciding whether to breastfeed or bottle feed is a personal choice primarily made by two intimate participants: mother and baby. For breastfeeding to work, both mother and child need to be committed to continuing for as long as that remains the best arrangement for the two of them. And whatever feeding method the two arrive at, family, friends and other supporters should offer encouragement.There is little argument that breast milk is the most complete and ideal nutrition for a baby. However, several other factors besides nutrition figure into the decision of how to feed a newborn, including the actual mechanics of breastfeeding; the baby’s preference and ability to nurse; and the mother’s comfort level, lifestyle and specific medical considerations.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Dietetic Association (ADA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) all recommend breast milk as the best food for babies.
Human milk provides the perfect combination of fatty acids, lactose, water and amino acids to match human digestion, brain development and growth. But mothers who do not breastfeed exclusively—or at all—may feel guilty. However, studies show that if you feed your baby a good quality commercially prepared formula, her nutritional needs will be met.
And the actual process of providing 100 percent of your baby’s nourishment from nursing is not always an easy task.
Mothers committed to nursing for any length of time should surround themselves with knowledgeable people who can help them through the inevitable hiccups as the breastfeeding relationship progresses.
According to Barbara Rhea, RNC, a board-certified lactation consultant, nearly 80 percent of mothers who give birth at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse begin breastfeeding their newborns.
But obstacles often arise. “I wouldn’t have a job if everything went perfectly,” Rhea says. She and four other lactation consultants provide support for nursing mothers immediately after birth and two days after discharge from the hospital.
“We are lucky at St. Joe’s to have our Breastfeeding Support Center, where lactation consultants are available seven days a week to see mothers, whether they are patients of St. Joseph’s or other community health centers,” Rhea says.
Breastfeeding can be daunting for an inexperienced mother. Some mothers experience pain, either from engorged breasts or as baby has difficulty latching on. These are common problems and can be remedied.
There is no doubt that breastfeeding requires a substantial time commitment, as many aspects of parenting do. Creating a support system of caregivers who feed pumped breast milk will allow the mother to leave the baby for periods of time.
Cyndi Colligan of Syracuse has four children she breastfed for varying lengths of time. When her eldest son was born 15 years ago, she didn’t have a lot of support with her decision to breastfeed. Now, Colligan is a leader with La Leche League’s Syracuse East group.
“There are many variables in a mother’s decision to breastfeed—her health, emotional well-being, work-related challenges and more,” Colligan says. “It is very rare that a mother is (completely) unable to breastfeed, but it does require that some compromises be reached.”
La Leche League, an international organization whose mission is to help mothers breastfeed, has three Syracuse-area groups. The support groups meet regularly, not only to cover discussion topics but also to provide mom-to-mom encouragement.
“Our goal is to meet people where they are,” Colligan says. “Every suggestion won’t work for everyone. I always compare it to going to the grocery store. You take home what you need and leave the rest behind.”
Advantages of BreastfeedingFights infection. Antibodies passed from a nursing mother to her baby can help lower the occurrence of ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory infections and meningitis. Breastfeeding is particularly beneficial for premature babies, and as a group, breastfed babies have fewer infections and hospitalizations than formula-fed infants.
Nutritious and easy to digest. Called the “perfect food” for human infants, breast milk’s components—lactose, protein (whey and casein) and fat—are easily digested by a newborn’s immature system. Breast milk contains many of the vitamins and minerals a baby requires, often without the mother taking any nutritional supplements or vitamins.
Free. Breast milk doesn’t cost a cent, while the cost of formula adds up quickly. Babies who have their immune systems bolstered by breast milk need fewer trips to the doctor.
Different tastes. A nursing mother will need about 500 extra calories each day, and she should eat a wide variety of nutritious foods. The different foods the mother eats will flavor the breast milk and expose her baby to different tastes.
Convenient. With no need to run to the store or prepare and warm a bottle of formula, breast milk is fresh and as available as the mother is.
Good for mom. The ability to nourish a baby totally can help a new mother feel confident about her ability to care for her child. Nursing burns calories and helps shrink the uterus to help mothers return to their pre-pregnancy shape and weight quicker.
Extra benefits. Some studies suggest that breastfeeding may prevent obesity. And many nursing mothers enjoy the skin-to-skin contact and experience a special feeling of closeness with their babies.
Breastfeeding ChallengesPersonal comfort. Any new skill can be uncomfortable at first, but with the right education, support and practice, most moms are able to get past this obstacle.
Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. Many moms experience latch-on pain in the first week to 10 days, but it shouldn’t last more than a minute with each feeding. Some mothers experience sore or cracked nipples.
Breastfeeding mothers’ breasts may become engorged, when breasts are so full of milk that they are hard and painful.
If mothers continue to experience pain during feeding or the nipples or breasts are sore, seek advice from a lactation consultant or health care professional. Often, using the proper technique will help, but prolonged pain may indicate an infection or other problem.
Time and frequency of feedings. Some women worry that breastfeeding will make it difficult to return to work, run errands or travel.
Pumping breast milk is as time consuming and tiring as nursing, but it does allow a bit of freedom. The process is helped by a little organization and time management.
Nursing mothers must wear clothes that enable them to feed the baby anywhere. Separates are your best bet; you definitely don’t want to go out on a long errand in a dress if you’re planning on breastfeeding away from home.
Diet. Because things the mother eats are passed to the nursing baby, breastfeeding moms should continue to avoid the foods that can be harmful to the baby. Fish that has high levels of mercury should be avoided.
If you consume alcohol, a small amount can be passed to the baby so wait until two hours after a single drink to avoid passing even a small amount onto the baby. Caffeine should also be avoided or consumed in small quantities as it has been known to cause irritability and restlessness in nursing babies.
Maternal medical conditions. Medical conditions such as HIV or AIDS, or those that involve chemotherapy or treatment with certain medications may make breastfeeding unsafe. Talk to your health care professional or lactation consultant.
Mothers who have had breast surgery, including reductions, should talk with her doctor and work with a lactation consultant.
Baby’s preference. Some babies find it difficult to latch on to nipples or may be unable to extract enough milk by sucking. This could tire the baby and cause the mother frustration.
Mother’s discomfort with the idea of breastfeeding. Some women don’t feel comfortable handling their breasts, or they want to think of them as sexual and not functional. They may be concerned about modesty and the possibility of having to nurse in public.
Breast milk is often too low in Vitamin D. Partly because mothers are often advised to avoid too much exposure to the sun, which is one important way that the human body obtains the D vitamin, the AAP recommends that breastfed infants get Vitamin D supplements until they are 2 months old.
Local La Leche League meetingsLiverpool. Second Wednesday of the month, 7 p.m. Call the leader at 299-2702 for meeting place.
Oswego. First Wednesday of the month, 6:30 p.m. Call the leader at 299-2702 for the meeting place.
Syracuse East PM. Second Monday of the month, 7 p.m., at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 2748 Highbridge Road, Fayetteville.
Syracuse East AM. Fourth Monday, 10:30 a.m., at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.