Every year, the first week in August, more than 170 countries celebrate World Breastfeeding Week. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the event, organized by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action. The goal, according to the Alliance, is to encourage women to breastfeed, as well as to bring the importance of this mother/child bond to the forefront of community agendas.
This year's theme is "Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life." We asked Fort Lee pediatrician Harry Banschick, MD, of Holy Name Medical Center, why nursing is so critical to laying a foundation for lifelong good health, and not just for the babies.
Dr. Harry Banschick
"There's no question breast milk is considered the best option for babies, for a number of reasons," says Dr. Banschick. The first is that it is easy to digest. Breast milk also has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein for a baby's growth and development, he says.
"Baby formula manufacturers have tried to replicate it, but there really is no substitute for a mother's milk," Dr. Banschick explains.
Studies show breastfed babies usually get sick less often, because breast milk contains antibodies that can protect infants from bacterial and viral infections. "Nursed babies tend to have less respiratory illnesses, gastrointestinal problems, allergies, and ear infections," says Dr. Banschick.
Additionally, research suggests that breastfeeding has been shown to strengthen bonding between mother and baby as well as increase cognitive ability and enhance visual development.
"There are also health benefits for the mother because hormones produced to enable breastfeeding can help the mother relax, leading to better sleep and even a lower incidence of postpartum depression," says Dr. Banschick.
Nursing mothers also have less incidence of multiple types of cancer, says Dr. Banschick, as well as less cases of osteoporosis, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes. "The hormone oxytocin is released during breastfeeding, which helps to minimize bleeding after birth and helps the uterus return to its normal size," explains Dr. Banschick.
According to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, breastfeeding rates are up nationwide, although Dr. Banschick acknowledges, for some new mothers, it's not easy.
"If a woman can get through the first week, there is a much higher success rate," says Dr. Banschick. If a baby is having trouble latching on and may begin to lose weight, it's easy to understand why a new mother would get nervous and want to give up, opting instead for formula, he says. "I try to encourage new moms to do their best to relax and just give it a try; you just need to get through the first few days," says Dr. Banschick.
For a more successful early outcome, experts recommend the following:
- Keep baby skin to skin with mom until after the first feeding
- Consider rooming in with baby
- Try to limit supplemental feedings unless medically indicated
- Keep pacifier use to a minimum, only after one month of age
- Ask for help if you need it; a lactation consultant can help with the process
Holy Name Medical Center offers breastfeeding classes with topics including:
- Anatomy of breastfeeding
- Benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby
- Effective latch
- Positioning for effective breastfeeding
- Overcoming challenges
For more information, please call The Birthplace at Holy Name at 201-833-3153 or click on the following link: holyname.org/BirthPlace/Breastfeeding.aspx