Ask the Registered Nurse
Carol Olsen R.N., B.S.N., I.B.C.L.C.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant
Choosing to Breastfeed
Making the decision to breastfeed is a personal matter. It's also one that's likely to draw strong opinions from friends and family. But you and your baby are unique, and the decision is up to you. August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month - Educate yourself and be the advocate for you and your baby.
Breast Milk Is the Best Milk
Nature designed human milk especially for human babies, and it has many advantages over formula. Did you know that your milk contains just the right balance of nutrients, contained in a form most easily used by the baby's immature body systems? And because it was developed for your baby, your milk is the gentlest.
Medical authorities, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, strongly recommend breastfeeding. I have counseled mothers for over thirty years, explaining the many reasons why breast milk is the best milk for babies.
What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for Your Baby?
Breast milk provides the perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat – everything your baby needs to grow. And it's provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers your baby's risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
Breastfeeding has also been associated with higher IQ scores in later childhood. What's more, the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. The AAP says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It's been thought to lower the risk of diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers as well, but more research is needed.
There are also many benefits to mothers. Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so it can help you lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding also lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
The first few days after birth, your breasts make the ideal "first milk" called colostrum. Although Colostrum is a thin liquid, it adequately meets your baby's nutritional needs as your ‘mature milk’ arrives. Colostrum helps a newborn's digestive tract develop and prepare itself for digestion.
First-time mom Catherine Valenzano, made up her mind to breastfeed months before her daughter, Isabella, was born. “After birth, my first attempt at breastfeeding was slightly uncomfortable. Learning how to guide my daughter to latch took practice and I experienced soreness at first. The lactation consultant put my mind at ease by explaining what to expect and reassuring me to not beat myself up if it doesn't go perfectly the first few days. "
Motherhood can be extremely stressful for new moms. Not only are you healing from labor and often sleep deprived, but you are now solely responsible for a new life. It is an overwhelming time, but trust in nature. Once you learn the proper techniques including guiding your baby to latch properly, breastfeeding will become easier. Building your confidence is so important. Know that you can do this.
Images of mothers breastfeeding their babies make it look simple – but most women need some help. It can come from a nurse, doctor, family member, or friend, and it helps mothers get over possible bumps in the road. Reach out to friends, family, and your doctor with any questions you may have. Often the women in your life have had those same questions.
Only a few medications should not be taken while breastfeeding, and sometimes a safe substitute medication is available. Talk with your doctor or a lactation consultant to discuss breastfeeding and what is best for your baby and you.
Educate yourself by attending breastfeeding classes, contact support groups such as La Leche League and utilize the resources available at Richmond University Medical Center. RUMC'S Lactation Support Center offers consultation services and resources for new mothers having difficulties with breastfeeding. For more information, call 718-818-4375.
Carol Olsen is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Mrs. Olsen, a former neonatal intensive care unit nurse, works at Richmond University Medical Center as a Lactation Consultant.