As a neonatologist, I know the many benefits of breastfeeding, for both mom and her baby. As a mother who breastfed, I am also familiar with many of the struggles and joys that can accompany breastfeeding. If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, here are some things that you should know.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast milk for the first 6 months of life. Babies who receive breast milk have the following:
Higher IQs (as much as 7 IQ points higher)
Decreased risk of asthma and allergies
May have a lower risk of developing diabetes
Breastfeeding has also been shown to decrease the risk of SIDS and strengthen maternal-infant bonding. Moms who provide breast milk have decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, return to pre-pregnancy weight faster, and may have decreased risk of heart disease later in life.
Breastfeeding is HARD! Many mothers have no trouble breastfeeding; after the baby is born, he/she is able to latch easily, the mother’s milk supply comes in without any problem and they are off and running. But, some mothers experience problems that were either not anticipated or under-estimated.
I recommend that all new Moms seek out and attend a breastfeeding support group. It is important to know that a lot of problems are common and fixable in the early days. It is helpful to hear from other mothers who are experiencing, or who have successfully overcome, similar problems. These peers, along with a lactation professional who can give solid advice, can offer unique support and understanding for these common problems.
Common problems that Moms may encounter include:
Excessively sleepy babies
Delay in milk coming in
Many new moms report nipple discomfort during the first week of breastfeeding, but you should never feel pain! If you are concerned about any of these common problems or have any questions, it is important for you to seek help from a qualified lactation consultant and your pediatrician as soon as possible.
When breastfeeding is going well, baby should be waking every 2-3 hours to nurse, with one wet diaper and one stool for every day of life during the first week (for instance, when baby is 3 days old, there should be 3 wet diapers and 3 stools). Some breastfed babies will eat more or less frequently, but every baby should nurse at least 8-10 times in 24 hours and not go more than 4 hours between feeds in the first 4 weeks. Many breastfed babies will be comforted by skin-to-skin contact during these early weeks and this can be a useful strategy for calming fussy infants.
Breast milk offers the best nutrition, but there are some instances when breast milk is not available or medically appropriate. We are fortunate to have formula available as a safe alternative. Breastfeeding does not have to be all or nothing. Some benefits of breast milk can be considered “dose-dependent” meaning some exposure to breast milk is better than none – every ounce counts. Many mothers feed their baby a combination of breast milk and formula for a number of reasons. While breast milk remains superior to formula, a new mother’s main focus should be to love and feed her baby.
You can find certified lactation consultants in your area by contacting your delivery hospital, La Leche League or the International Lactation Consultant Association; you can also ask your pediatrician or obstetrician for a recommendation. It takes 6-8 weeks for breastfeeding to become established which can feel like a lifetime, and that is why it is important to find good support during this time.
Vanessa Shanks, MD is a Neonatologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Wexner Medical Center at The Ohio State University. She is also assistant professor of pediatrics for The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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