Bridget Swinney MS, RD, LD
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be breastfed until 1 year of age and that babies are breastfed exclusively (meaning no other foods or drinks) for the first 6 months. While the majority of women start breastfeeding at the hospital, many quit due to lack of support from family or not feeling confident about her ability to breastfeed. Why?
Breastfeeding provides many health benefits for both moms and babies:
- Breastfeeding is good for mom: is linked to a lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer and postpartum depression. Mothers who breastfeed also miss less work because their infants are sick less often. Breastfeeding also helps moms get back into shape.
- Breastfeeding is good for babies: linked to lower risks of ear and respiratory infections, asthma, necrotizing enterocolitis (a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract of preterm infants.)
- Breastmilk is specifically made for your baby; as he grows, breastmilk changes to meet his nutritional needs.
- Breastfeeding has been linked to improvements in cognitive development.
- Breastfeeding saves money: an estimated $1,500 a year!
Supporting Breastfeeding Moms: It’s Everyone’s Job
You don’t have to be a mom to be a breastfeeding advocate! Lack of support from family and employers is one large barrier to breastfeeding, so join in the cause. Help a breastfeeding mom today or tomorrow by:
- Giving moral support to a breastfeeding mom. Having a new baby is tough. And because the “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” breastfeeding moms may think that breastfeeding is harder, more time consuming and not much different from formula feeding. Here’s how to help a daughter, friend, or sister:
- Give an encouraging word; it can go a long way in supporting a mom that is teetering on the edge.
- Offer to take an older sibling to the park or outside to play to give mom a break.
- Offer to pick needed items up at the store.
- Offer to help around the house.
- Be a good listener; new moms sometimes need to “vent.”
- Giving support at work: Another large barrier to breastfeeding is returning to work. Employers need to know that breastfeeding helps the bottom line: supporting breastfeeding helps in employee retention, in reducing sick leave and health insurance costs. Moms who want to continue nursing after being back at work need to take several breaks during the day to pump—and that means they need the support of co-workers. Ways to help nursing moms at work.
- Sometimes lack of support is silent—unfriendly glances, the silent treatment and other signs of resentment. Instead tell a breastfeeding mom that you think her choice is great!
- If you have a private office that can be used for pumping, try to make it available for a nursing mom when she needs to pump.
- Develop policies that support breastfeeding at your workplace.
- For resources on returning to work while breastfeeding: http://www.llli.org/nb/nbworking.html
- The Business Case for Breastfeeding: educating employers on the value of breastfeeding. http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/government-in-action/business-case-for-breastfeeding/index.cfm
Another barrier to breastfeeding: the impression there is not enough milk. Unfortunately, many health professionals feed into this myth. Recently, clients have told me that their health care providers told them to supplement with formula “in case they don’t have enough milk.” This advice insures a mom won’t have enough milk! Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis. When babies nurse more often, moms make more milk. The opposite is also true, so by supplementing with formula (unless you pump at the same time) the milk supply will decrease.
How much do babies typically eat?
A newborn’s tummy is very small, especially in the early days. How small? The pictures below show the typical size of a baby’s stomach. At birth, the stomach can only hold about 1-2 teaspoons. (That’s why colostrum, the first milk, is made in very small amounts. In the first week, a baby’s stomach grows to hold about 2 ounces, or what can fit in a walnut! Smaller and premature infants have even smaller stomachs!
The Newborn Tummy Holds as much as a hazelnut.
The One Week Old Tummy: Holds as Much as a Walnut
Once breastfeeding is established, exclusively breastfed babies from 1 to 6 months of age take in between 19 and 30 ounces per day. If you breastfeed 8 times per day, the baby would eat around 3 ounces per feeding. Older babies will take less breastmilk as other food is introduced.
Where Does Formula Fit In?
Is it always possible for working moms to continue breastfeeding exclusively? No, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop nursing. It’s possible to do a combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding by breastfeeding in the morning and in the evening (or when you are around your baby) and giving formula while he is away from you. That way, your baby still gets some of the benefits of breastfeeding and you can know that you are still providing for your baby. If this is your plan, it is best to do that later, once breastfeeding is well established and closer to your return to work date.
On a personal note, I breastfed both of my sons and I think they are healthier (and smarter!) as a result. I suggest all new moms give it a try; you’ll never know what the benefits will be unless you do.
My favorite breastfeeding resources
US Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health (also contains information en espanol)
Breastfeeding: Your Legal Rights http://www.llli.org/law/lawmain.html
La Leche League: An international organization that supports breastfeeding
Kellymom.com: evidence based information by a certified Lactation Consultant