Breastfeeding: Best bet for babies Daniel R. Brennan, M.D. F.A.A.P., C.L.C.
A baby nestles skin to skin in her mother’s arms. Her little mouth opens, she starts to root and latches on. One suckle, then a second, followed by a gulp. Mother and baby have reunited to breastfeed.
While breastfeeding may be the most natural way to feed a baby, it does not always come so naturally. Some moms work for days or weeks to perfect the latch, improve positioning and enhance their milk supply. With the right support from your family, pediatrician and lactation expert, breastfeeding can be a rewarding way to nourish and bond with your baby.
Benefits for infant, mother and community
The benefits of breastfeeding a baby are well known. Human milk has been designed especially for human babies, is easier for a baby to digest and is chock-full of infection-fighting antibodies. Each time a baby nurses, a mom is providing her baby with a natural immunity to combat viruses and bacteria. Breastfed babies generally develop fewer ear, stomach and upper-respiratory infections.
Nursing provides many potential health benefits for moms. Several studies suggest that breastfeeding moms may lower their risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. A breastfeeding mom may also have improved bone density, experience less bleeding after delivery, and have an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight.
Our community also benefits from breastfeeding. If your baby has fewer colds, you’ll have fewer visits to the doctor, fewer health care costs and fewer days missed from work.
Overcoming challenges to breastfeeding
New mothers face many hurdles when learning to breastfeed. Delayed milk production, difficulties with latching, lack of support or improper advice from well-meaning family members, friends and health professionals may all lead to breastfeeding failure.
Many moms may question whether their milk is "good enough" for their baby. Because human milk is easily digested, most breastfed babies want to nurse every 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. This is in contrast to some formula-fed babies who will typically feed every 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. It is common to have a breastfed baby that wants to "feed all day" with no apparent schedule. Marathon feeding days are especially common during the growth spurts at three and six weeks of age.
Most babies will offer cues when they are hungry. Crying, sucking, rooting or clenching fists may all be cues that your baby would like to nurse. To enhance the milk supply and satisfy an infant’s hunger, it is preferable to watch the baby and feed on cue, rather than watch the clock.
Some moms will have a delay in their milk production, especially after a Cesarean section. The more often a baby nurses or milk is expressed, the sooner the milk supply will be established. Instead of supplementing with formula and waiting for the milk to "come in", a new mother can enhance her milk supply by having her baby latch on every two hours. Sometimes using a breast pump, after or in between feeds, can be useful in increasing milk production.
Is my baby getting enough?
How do you know if your baby is getting enough milk? Some babies will lose up to 10 percent of their birth weight before reaching their birth weight again at two weeks of life. Signs that your baby is getting enough to eat include having at least four to six wet diapers and two or three bowel movements in a 24-hour period. Your pediatrician will be looking for a weight gain of 1/2 to one ounce a day during office visits.
Breastfeeding your newborn baby can be a very rewarding, but often times challenging endeavor. With the early support, advice and assistance from your pediatrician and community lactation experts, breastfeeding your baby can be an easier and more pleasurable experience.
Dr. Brennan is Santa Barbara's first board certified pediatrician and certified lactation counselor.