Holy Name Medical Center Blog

Breastfeeding Basics

Posted by Harry Banschick, MD, Director of Pediatrics
Holy Name Medical Partners on August 9, 2021

Breastfeeding offers many benefits, but it can take time to establish. Your baby may not always latch on right away.

This can be frustrating and nerve-wracking, especially if the baby starts to lose weight. So it's really important that those who choose to breastfeed have the support of their families, friends, and our team at Holy Name's BirthPlace.

Health Benefits

The health benefits of breastfeeding, for both the mother and child, are indisputable. Breastfeeding lowers your baby's risk of asthma, allergies, ear infections, respiratory illness, and so much more. For Mom, breastfeeding burns extra calories, so it can help you lose weight faster. It's even been linked to a lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Supply and Demand

Breastfeeding basically works on a supply-and-demand system. The production of milk is fully dependent on the stimulation of the breasts by the baby suckling over the first few days. If there's little or no stimulation, the hormones will initiate little or no milk production.

The Struggle

Despite the idea that breastfeeding is supposed to be instinctual, even natural, this doesn't mean it comes easy to everybody. Some women really struggle with it.

According to a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics, 85 percent of moms plan to exclusively breastfeed for at least three months. But by three months, only 40 percent are actually still breastfeeding, and by six months, this number drops to 18 percent.

Why this is, we don't exactly know, but the more stress the mother experiences, the harder it is for her to nurse. Couple that with a lack of sleep and a body that's still recovering from childbirth, and it doesn't always come together.

Difficulties with Breastfeeding

Some moms say they feel a sense of failure when breastfeeding doesn't work. One study out of England found that those who planned to breastfeed but had not managed to were two-and-a-half times more likely to develop postpartum depression compared to women who had no intention of breastfeeding. But know this, there are things you can do to make it easier.

If it turns out you do have problems, don't quit right away; it will likely get easier. Remember, there are alternatives if breastfeeding does not work out.

Making it Easier

So, what can new moms do to help ease the process? For starters, relax, breathe, try not to force the issue. I also recommend:

  • Initiating breastfeeding within the first three hours of life, when the baby is alert and active and the instinct to feed is vibrant. After the first three hours, many babies fall into a deep sleep, and it is difficult to wake them to feed for several hours.
  • Place the baby skin to skin with Mom immediately after delivery or as soon as possible. Skin to skin means the baby's naked belly to Mom's chest, belly, or breast. This has many benefits to Mom and baby and should be continued with every feeding for the first few days of life.
  • Keep in mind, the best time to establish a good latch is when the baby is wide awake. Mom's nurse will assist in positioning and latching the baby in a skin-to-skin position that is comfortable for both Mom and baby.
  • And just like with anything else in life, practice makes perfect.

Breastfeeding and the COVID-19 Vaccine

I am often asked if it is safe to receive a COVID-19 vaccine while breastfeeding. Even though the vaccine has not yet been studied on those who are lactating, the CDC reports that, based on the way these vaccines work, they are not thought to be at risk to lactating mothers or breastfeeding babies. Therefore, the CDC recommends receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, especially since those who are pregnant and those who have recently given birth are more at risk for serious illness from COVID-19. Recent research has shown that antibodies from COVID-19 mRNA vaccines that are in breastmilk could also help protect babies.

We're Here to Help

Breastfeeding is a learning process, and episodes of trial and error should be expected. Holy Name Medical Center's BirthPlace staff is available to help troubleshoot and guide the process. In most cases, Mom makes what baby needs, and baby needs what Mom makes. You may just need a little extra guidance to get there. For more information please call The Birth Place at 201-833-3153 or click on the following link: holyname.org/BirthPlace/Breastfeeding.aspx