By Patricia Newton, CCCE, CLEpreviously published on babysheaven.com, summer 2001 and CAPPA Quarterly, spring 2002
Have you noticed how people love to give advice to pregnant women? Even strangers seem to be experts at predicting what a woman’s labor is going to be like, what gender the baby will be, and how often the parents should pick the baby up. Breastfeeding is no exception. Advice is freely given in the Breastfeeding Department, sometimes by people with very little personal breastfeeding experience. To save yourself a few headaches, learn from others’ mistakes when it comes to nursing your baby. Try not to make these same mistakes yourself.
10. Disregard financial savings. Breastfeeding saves the obvious cost of formula and bottles, which has been estimated to be $1000 for baby’s first year of life. There are additional savings that also should not be overlooked. These include reduced health care costs due to a breastfed baby’s receiving optimal nutrition. Even with an insurance co-payment of $5 per office visit, more of your money can remain in your bank account. If you are a working parent, you will lose less time from work caused by caring for an ill child, and your boss will love you for it. Because of the efficient brain development that breastfeeding provides, breastfed children have higher IQ’s. This fact may help in the future with educational costs in the form of college scholarships.
9. Believe a working mother cannot breastfeed. Unfortunately, many people believe only stay-at-home mothers can breastfeed their children. The truth is, many working mothers from a wide variety of careers have successfully nursed their babies for a significant length of time. Ideally, a new mother will establish her milk supply while being at home for at least six weeks postpartum. During this time, she can explore her available options on expressing her breast milk and possibly even breastfeeding during working hours. Many working mothers have found their nursing sessions to be extremely rewarding, largely due to the stress management benefit that breastfeeding brings. Prolactin, the hormone responsible for the production of breast milk, brings a state of relaxation to the lactating mother. Studies show that lactating rats respond less to stressful events and fight less amongst themselves. This is believed to be due to the higher level of prolactin, which is evident in breastfeeding mothers.
8. Believe that formula is "good enough." Yes, we can all think of babies who have been formula fed and who seem to be generally healthy. However, these babies were not fed the food that has been perfectly designed just for them. Their small bodies could be growing in the best possible way if they received the proper nutrition. It has been stated that formula is not "good enough" for babies; in fact, some breastfeeding professionals feel that formula should be the last option mothers choose when feeding their babies. The first choice is to breastfeed the baby, the second choice is mother’s breast milk given to baby in a bottle, the third choice is breast milk donated by another lactating mother, and the final choice is formula.
7. Believe that others need to feel included by feeding the baby. It is wonderful to have friends and family members who want to love and help nurture a baby. However, there are many ways that a person can do this. In addition to being fed, babies also need to be bathed, diapered, held, walked, sung to, rocked, spoken to, played with, massaged, read to, and generally loved. Most breastfeeding moms enjoy knowing that only they can feed their babies. Moms appreciate others helping to take care of baby, but it’s also rewarding to know that no other person can give baby what mom can. A mother cannot be replaced.
6. Disregard your own health benefits. It is believed the hormonal state that occurs during lactation lends to some important health benefits for the nursing mother. Reduced risks of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, and osteoporosis have been shown. Additionally, breastfeeding moms are less likely to develop diabetes later in life, which is especially important for women who develop gestational diabetes or have a family history of this disease. Prolactin levels are higher in lactating women, and this hormone helps to quickly reduce the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size. Combined with the extra calorie burning that breastfeeding provides, a nursing mother is more apt to regain her figure sooner than a non-lactating mom is.
Usually, the return of a breastfeeding mom’s menstrual cycle is delayed. This length of time varies and allows for iron levels to be rebuilt that were lost especially during childbirth. This restoration period is important for all women, but especially for those with anemic tendencies.
5. Disregard your baby’s health benefits. Antibodies in breast milk strengthen baby’s immune system and give unequalled protection against allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, and respiratory infections. Some specific illnesses that breastfed babies are protected against include and are not limited to leukemia, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, polio, pneumonia, botulism, flu, bronchitis, and ear infections.
The physical exercise required to nurse is more intense than feeding through a rubber nipple. This regular exercise leads to a higher development of the jaw and tooth alignment in the breastfed baby.
Due to the efficiency of fat cells provided in breast milk, those who have been breastfed are less likely to be overweight throughout life. Additionally, breastfed babies are much less likely to suffer from child abuse. This is because of the higher levels of prolactin, which is a stress reducing hormone found in high levels within the nursing mother.
4. Believe you can’t produce enough milk. Many women feel, after only a brief attempt at breastfeeding, that they are unable to produce enough milk to nourish their baby. The truth is, only about 1% of all women are physically unable to breastfeed. Quite often, mothers come to this conclusion after dealing with a fussy baby, not putting baby to breast often enough in the early days, and pumping with inadequate results. These women oftentimes fail to obtain proper support when this problem occurs (see #1 below), which is detrimental because usually, only minor adjustments need to be made in order to remedy the problem.
3. Do not take part in a breastfeeding class during pregnancy. Every pregnant mother and her partner should attend such a class, whether or not they have decided to breastfeed. A good breastfeeding class will provide up-to-date information on the advantages, how families can support breastfeeding, the basis of getting started, as well as common problems associated with nursing. Classes serve as a good opportunity to meet with other expectant parents and to learn of local Lactation Professionals to whom they can turn for help. Some hospitals offer breastfeeding classes, and they are becoming popular within OB/GYN and Midwives’ offices also. Check the instructor’s credentials; breastfeeding classes should be taught only by a Certified Lactation Educator or a Lactation Consultant.
2. Forget that "practice makes perfect." Mom’s body was designed to feed her baby. If it weren’t, there would be no such thing as colostrum magically appearing late in pregnancy and milk "coming in" a few days after childbirth. Although breastfeeding, as with parenting, is a natural occurrence in a woman’s life, it is not a reflex. It takes practice to recognize baby’s hunger signs, to help a baby to latch on correctly, and to become familiar with the different nursing positions. It also takes practice for baby to learn how to latch on correctly in order to efficiently express milk from mom’s breast. Practice is needed by two people to make breastfeeding work, and practice requires time and patience.
1. Fail to seek knowledgeable support. Lack of breastfeeding support is a major reason why many mothers stop breastfeeding. Undoubtedly, the single most important move a pregnant woman can make is to build her breastfeeding support network during the end of her pregnancy. This group of people can consist of family and friends who have successfully breastfed their babies, a La Leche League group, and should also include Lactation Professionals, such a Certified Lactation Educator or Lactation Consultant. Because breastfeeding can be tough at times, it is important to have a list of knowledgeable people handy when you need to ask a question or hear some reassuring advice.
To find a local La Leche League group, call 1-800-LALECHE. To find a Certified Lactation Educator near you, contact the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA) at 1-888-548-3672. You should also call your hospital’s maternity department or ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a Lactation Educator or Lactation Consultant.
Pryor, Gale. Nursing Mother, Working Mother. Harvard Common Press.
World Health Organization. Protecting, Promoting, and Supporting Breastfeeding: The Special Role of Maternity Services. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 1989.
La Leche League International. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Fourth Revised Edition.
Huggins, Kathleen, RN, MS. The Nursing Mother’s Companion.
Eiger, Marvin S. MD & Olds, Sally Wendkos. The Complete Book of Breastfeeding.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk (RE9729). AAP; 1979.
In addition to being a freelance writer, Patricia Newton is a certified childbirth educator and doula. The founder of Operation Special Delivery, which provides free labor support to women whose partners are on military deployment, she considers herself blessed to live in the same small town in which she was raised. Patricia lives in New Jersey with her “childhood-crush-turned-husband” and their three home-educated daughters.