Breastmilk Does a Body Good: 5 Feeding Pointers for New Parents
You did it! You’ve given birth to a beautiful baby. Now you have another major decision to make. Will you breastfeed? If you do, you’ll join the majority of new moms making this choice. 77% of all babies born in 2010 were breastfed, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health.
Breastfeeding reduces the odds of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by 36%, and because physical contact is important to your baby, breastfeeding can help them feel more secure and comforted.
And mom, you benefit too. Skin-to-skin contact boosts your levels of the hormone oxytocin, which helps milk flow. You also lower your risk of postpartum depression, ovarian cancer, breast cancer and type 2 diabetes. 
Fiona Robertson, the Clinical Manager of UAMS’ Lactation Program, says “The pendulum has swung. More women now understand the benefits.” However, new mothers must learn to trust that their bodies will do what they are made to do.
What do new mothers need to know about breastfeeding?
Fiona Robertson: The first thing we tell mothers is ‘you can do this.’ We tell them their bodies are ready for this. Our body says ‘I’ve grown the baby on the inside, and now I want to grow the baby on the outside.’
What is the optimal length of time that a mother breastfeed her baby?
We discuss with mothers what will work best for them. The reality is that we see a drop-off at about three months. That’s usually when women return to work. The World Health Organization has recommended 12 months, but recently increased to 24 months. If possible, babies should take their mother’s milk exclusively for the first six months.
Should all mothers breastfeed?
It’s really rare that we say no. Mothers can have some pre-existing conditions and safely breastfeed. However, if a mother is taking certain medications that may be dangerous to the baby, or has HIV, she cannot breastfeed her child. And there are other conditions that may prohibit a woman from breastfeeding, such as Herpes simplex virus, when the mother has an active lesion on the breast.
[Editor's note: In our August 2014 issue, we mistakenly reported that Hepatitis C may prevent a woman from breastfeeding. However, with proper medication, women with Hepatitis C can continue breastfeeding; please consult your doctor if you have concerns.]
Let’s talk about latching on. What should mothers do if their baby doesn’t latch on?
At UAMS, we provide examples of what a good latch looks like and a bad latch looks like. It’s amazing how many times I go to see a mother and she’s leaning over in the strangest position because she thinks the baby is comfortable and doesn’t want to move. Baby comes to you. If the mother is comfortable, the experience will be much better for both mom and baby. The baby should be calm and relaxed. When the baby wakes up, it’s time for a feeding. Don’t wait until they’re crying to try and feed them.
This is also a good time to bring dad into the mix. I tell dads they are an integral part of the team. Dads often feel disassociated with breastfeeding, but they are needed during the process. They can assist the mother by rubbing her back or getting her a drink of water. Dads have a better visual of things. He can see if the baby is latched on properly. We never undermine the father’s role.
How do I know if I’m producing enough milk for my baby?
One of the most-asked questions we get is will I make enough milk. Babies can become demanding of mom during the first year. Your baby won’t be on a schedule and because breast milk is much easier to digest than formula, your baby will need to feed much more than a baby on formula. However, your body will react to what the baby needs.
And breast milk is dynamic; it changes as your baby grows. Your baby will begin to gain weight, and you should be seeing wet, dirty diapers. If not, you need to call your pediatrician.
Goin’ on a Milk Run!
You can help support breastfeeding moms make it through difficult moments by participating in The Milk Run 5k on Aug. 16 at 7 a.m. at Murray Park. The Milk Run, organized by the Arkansas Breastfeeding Coalition, benefits local breastfeeding support groups. All funds will go toward teaching and supporting pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers in central Arkansas. The Milk Run is a chip-timed event; walkers, children and babies in strollers are welcome to participate. Registration is $25. Children 12 and under are free but parents must sign a release form. Get more details and register at ARBFC.org.