The Realities of Breastfeeding

"Dr. Mom" shares the benefits and challenges new moms can expect to experience when it comes to nursing.

Deciding whether to go breast or bottle? As the "slow food" movement sweeps the nation, nursing mothers know that meals don't get any more fresh and local than breastfeeding. The mantra "breast is best" is embraced by the World Health Organization, the American Association of Pediatrics, the Office of Women's Health and more for the benefits that nursing brings to both mother and baby.

Marianne Neifert, MD, a pediatrician and nationally recognized expert in breastfeeding management says that the benefits of breastfeeding go well beyond your family room. "People choose breastfeeding because they understand that there are so many health benefits to mothers and babies, and that translates into health care savings for society," says Neifert, also known as "Dr. Mom." "It's a win for everyone when we're successful with breastfeeding." While Neifert, the author of Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding, knows that nursing isn't for everyone, she asks that every mom at least give it a try. Here, she shares a candid glimpse at the realities new moms can expect when choosing that route.

The Benefits

Breastfeeding has countless advantages, including its health impact on moms and babies. Today, most hospitals have lactation consultants on hand to help new moms adjust to nursing and even offer support groups for moms.

Healthy babies. Good health begins with breastfeeding. Newborns' immune systems still need time to develop, and breast milk plays an important role in passing on antibodies to help keep babies healthy. Nursing has been found to reduce incidences of ear infections, respiratory infections, asthma, eczema, Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and more.

Healthy moms. Researchers are finding that the mother's health is also positively impacted by breastfeeding. Women who breastfeed are seeing reduced risks in breast and ovarian cancers and Type 2 Diabetes. Doctors are also finding that women who don't breastfeed and women who shorten the duration of breastfeeding are more often linked with post-partum depression.

Lose that baby weight. Lactation takes energy, which means it burns calories. Breastfeeding uses around 500 calories a day -- the equivalent to about an hour of jogging -- and helps moms lose their pregnancy weight more quickly. The fat that burns off tends to come from the lower body, particularly from the hips and buttocks.

Potential cost savings. Depending on each mothers' needs, breastfeeding has the potential to be less expensive than purchasing formula. But it's important to keep in mind that breastfeeding can have costs, with such items as breast pump, specialized bras and lactation consultants. It's a good idea to have a breastfeeding fund, just in case. The federally funded Women, Infant and Children program (WIC) now offers breast pumps to mothers in need.

Bonding. When nursing mothers look back on their time spent breastfeeding, they remember the intimacy. It's a quiet, peaceful time where the child is embraced and relies fully on his or her mother. A recent California study found that the longer time a baby spends skin-to-skin with mom during the first three hours after birth is related to the likelihood that the mom will be able to breastfeed exclusively, both in the hospital and longer term.

The Challenges

Breastfeeding can take time, dedication and effort. Just because it's natural doesn't mean it's easy. From latching issues to workplace demands, nursing mothers need to know what to expect in the first few months.

Not all babies (and moms) take to nursing immediately. It can be frustrating if the baby doesn't latch on, or if he or she latches on and falls asleep without taking in much milk. In those cases, mothers should find a lactation consultant immediately. Most hospitals have them on staff, or doctors can recommend one. If a new mom waits, her milk supply could diminish and exacerbate the problem.

Keeping up with supply and demand. "Use it or lose it," the phrase goes, and it's no different with breastfeeding. The body makes milk in relation to how much is removed, whether it's the baby, a breast pump or the mother's hand that removes it. If demand dwindles, so does supply. It's a good idea to pump when you can and build up a supply of milk in your freezer.

Soreness and pain. Mild nipple soreness is common with breastfeeding and it typically begins on the second day, peaks on the third and is dramatically better at the end of week one. Soothe sore nipples using medical-grade lanolin. If the soreness goes beyond discomfort to the level of pain, get help immediately. Your baby could be latching ineffectively or you could have mastitis, which is an infection of the breast tissue that nearly 1 in 10 mothers experience.

Leaking. You're not always in control of when (and where) your milk comes in. While "let down" can be a bit messy and embarrassing, it's also a good thing -- it usually means you have a solid supply of milk. La Leche League teaches thumb tricks to block the ducts, or you can sew your own breast pads or buy them at the store. The leaking tends to peak around six to eight weeks.

Return to work. Health care reform requires that (most) employers supply a place for nursing mothers to pump. Mothers shouldn't feel guilty or apologize for the time it takes to pump at work. It's a short period in your life and your baby is entitled to eat. If you're worried about the time it takes, consider a double breast pump, which will allow you to pump more quickly.

Breastfeeding in public. Mothers need to be empowered to breastfeed in public and feel confident about it. Again, your baby is entitled to eat. It helps to practice in front of a mirror until you're comfortable with the routine. There are a variety of accessories -- slings, "Hooter Hiders" and more -- that can help mothers be discrete.

Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation.

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