As we celebrate National Breastfeeding Month, we continue to observe the many benefits that come from breastfeeding. In my 20 years as a neonatologist, or baby specialist, I am pleased to see many new mothers choosing to breastfeed. However, I still spend time correcting myths about breastfeeding.
How breastfeeding plays an important role in a baby's life
There are more than 100 components in breast milk that play a very important role in a baby’s health. Breast milk contains:
- Agents that act as probiotics to promote a healthy gut.
- Anti-inflammatory agents to reduce injury and gut inflammation.
- Growth factors and antibodies to protect against infections and disease.
- Natural hormones to help intestinal growth.
- White blood cells that actively protect against bacteria and viruses.
- Several components that are important in brain development, eye development, and memory formation.
Breast milk is so beneficial that, depending on how much a baby receives, it may reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, diabetes, asthma, lymphoma, leukemia, obesity, hypercholesterolemia, ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and gastrointestinal illnesses.
Because of breast milk’s advantages, I encourage all new mothers to breastfeed. But I also realize there are circumstances that can interfere with breastfeeding, which is why hospitals like Broward Health Coral Springs offer classes and lactation specialists to their new moms.
The natural process of breastfeeding
The best time to get a baby started on the breast is immediately after delivery, as the baby will be the most alert and awake for the first one to two hours after birth. New moms do not need to be worried that they won’t have enough milk for their babies. An infant’s stomach is the size of a walnut on the first day of life so he or she only needs about a teaspoon amount of feed every two to three hours. And the more the baby is on the breast, the more milk a mother’s body will produce.
Breastfeeding is natural and babies were born to breastfeed, but there can be stumbling blocks that make the process challenging. Remember, breastfeeding is a learned skill for both mom and baby.
I encourage new moms who are struggling with breastfeeding not to give up when it becomes challenging. Sometimes a baby will latch and sometimes the baby just won’t, and that’s OK. It’s a normal part of the process. It takes about two weeks to establish a good breastfeeding pattern with a newborn.
I do advise new parents use caution when also using a bottle to feed. A baby gets milk from a breast differently than how milk is received from a bottle. While breastfeeding, a baby pushes the breast up against the roof of the mouth and the tongue is used to help pull milk out. Milk is released more easily from a bottle, only requiring use of the cheeks during sucking. If an infant becomes accustomed to getting formula from a bottle, the baby may not be interested in working harder to receive milk at the breast.
If a mother has never breastfed before, it can be challenging. A new mom may need to acknowledge the need for help and coaching. Every mother breastfeeding for the first time will need some instruction. I encourage mothers to utilize the care team nurse, lactation specialist, experienced friends, and even YouTube. Education about the basics before a mother goes into labor can help to focus on the joy of a new baby when he or she arrives.
Remember, most things worth doing don’t always come easily at first. Moms should give themselves and their babies the time, space, and compassion to learn the process of breastfeeding and this commitment could possibly save a baby’s life.
Arlene Boykin, M.D. is a neonatologist and Corporate Medical Director at Broward Health Coral Springs.
Article originally posted by Spectator Magazine.