You probably associate a great many things with the month of August such as going to the beach, eating ice cream, and enjoying the last dog days of summer before the kids have to head back to school. Well, there's something else August has come to be known for: National Breastfeeding Month.
"This month is dedicated to raising awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding and to helping empower women to commit to it," says Holy Name Medical Center pediatrician Harry Banschick, MD.
In recognition of National Breastfeeding Month, the United States Breastfeeding Committee hosts a number of outreach campaigns and coalitions to build what they call a "landscape of breastfeeding support." Equally as important is a mother's local support network, says Dr. Banschick.
"Breastfeeding takes time to establish," says Dr. Banschick, "and the 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 new mothers have the support of their families, friends, and colleagues," explains Dr. Banschick.
Here, we speak to him about all things breastfeeding:
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 the mother, 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," says Dr. Banschick.
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.
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," says Dr. Banschick.
According to a 2012 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,” says Dr. Banschick. “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, says Dr. Banschick.
"If it turns out you do have problems, don't quit right away; it will likely get easier," says Dr. Banschick, who reminds us that alternatives are available should breastfeeding not work out.
Making it Easier
So, what can you do to help ease the process? "For starters, relax, breathe, try not to force the issue," says Dr. Banschick, who also recommends:
- 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.
It's a learning process for both baby and Mom, and episodes of trial and error should be expected. Holy Name Medical Center's Birth Place 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