August is National Breast Feeding Month. In this first part of a two-part series, we spoke with lactation consultants Karen Dickert, R.N., BSN, IBCLC, RLC, Teya Drews, R.N., BSN, IBCLC, RLC and Colleen Rohrbacher, R.N., BSN, IBCLC, RLC from NCH with our questions about breast feeding.
Breast milk is the perfect food for the newborn human, containing the appropriate amounts of nutrition, antibodies, water content, milk components and calories.
There are numerous additional benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby. For new mothers, breastfeeding helps facilitate bonding and is healthy for the postpartum body. Lactation stimulates the production of oxytocin, sometimes called the “mothering hormone,” which makes the uterus contract in labor, and helps the uterus return to its pre-pregnant state faster. Lactation also burns 300 to 500 calories more per day over the pre-pregnant caloric needs and provides protective benefits such as a lower incidence of pre-menopausal breast and ovarian cancers.
Some new mothers want to breastfeed but also desire to have the convenience of formula. That’s possible, however, it is recommended to exclusively breastfeed for at least the first two weeks of the baby’s life in order to establish a good supply of milk. Once your supply is established (based on the amount of milk removed from the breast by the baby/pump), mothers can begin to introduce formula. But keep in mind that it’s not necessary to introduce formula to supplement breast milk. If more milk is needed after breastfeeding, lactation consultants encourage a mother to pump her breasts and offer all expressed breast milk to the baby first, before introducing formula, if she is able to do so. There is no need to ever offer formula if a mother has a good milk supply.
Breast milk is commonly available to purchase on the internet, but mothers should be aware that milk is often not screened and so there is risk involved in giving it to the baby. We recommend instead an established milk bank, such as The Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes in Elk Grove Village, where the milk is screened and available for purchase. At NCH we are happy to offer donor milk from the milk bank to our newborns, with parental consent, when needed.
It’s completely common for there to be anxiety and confusion about breastfeeding shortly after birth. Mothers may be concerned they’re not nursing correctly. “Contrary to what you may have been told, breastfeeding should not hurt. Baby is nursing well when they are appropriately gaining weight, are satisfied with feedings and have adequate output (urine and stool),” explains Drews.
It is recommended to breastfeed for at least up to a year if possible. A common myth is that babies should be weaned before their first birthday, but the perfect time to wean is simply when both the mother and baby are ready to do so. This timing may be different for different women, or for the same woman with subsequent children, and the right time may not arrive for two or three years. However, sometimes the mother is ready to end the breastfeeding journey sooner, or the baby is ready to do so. Each mother and child will be ready at different times. Solid food comes to take on a bigger role once the baby is on table foods. However, there are always benefits to offering breastfeeding and breast milk, such as the closeness it provides with the baby, especially as they learn to navigate their world in an upright position, as well as the antibodies it continues to provide.
The most common obstacle to successful breast feeding is misinformation and “advice” from well-meaning people. When a mother breastfeeds, it’s common for friends and family to offer advice based on their experiences, things they have read, old wives tales, etc. NCH lactation consultants recommend new mothers be educated and participate in a good breastfeeding class prenatally, and follow evidenced-based breastfeeding reading materials. They also stress that it’s vital for the mother to surround herself as much as possible with people who are supportive of breastfeeding and who wish to see her succeed.
NCH offers an outpatient Facebook Breastfeeding Support Group called Baby Café run by NCH lactation consultants. In non-COVID times, the group of mothers and babies typically meets in person weekly. During this time of COVID-19, they are meeting through weekly videoconference sessions. Check nch.org for more information about breast feeding and Baby Café.