Skip to main content

The Truth About Breastfeeding

by Natalie McCullen

Share

Natalie Mccullen

By: Natalie McCullen RN, BSN
International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant
The Birthplace at UPMC Susquehanna

Across the nation, August is an important recognition month established to help educate women and families on the importance of breastfeeding. The America Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life followed by continued breastfeeding along with appropriate solid foods until one year of age and older. World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding up to two years of age. Meeting these goals can have a positive impact on the short-term and long-term health of baby and mom.

It benefits the baby’s health. As the baby develops, the mother’s breast milk changes to meet the baby’s need for nutrients and antibodies to protect from illness. The Center for Disease Control reports there's evidence breastfeeding protects against a variety of diseases and conditions including ear and respiratory infections, asthma, diabetes, and childhood obesity as well as reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This protection can also be critical during times of natural disaster when water may be contaminated or there is a loss of power.

It benefits mom’s health. There are short-term and long-term benefits for mothers that choose to breastfeed. During the first few months of breastfeeding, the mother will release hormones that help the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size. Breastfeeding also burns calories to help you lose the pregnancy weight faster. In the long-term, breastfeeding reduces a mothers risk for diabetes and heart disease. Also, ovarian, uterine, and certain breast cancers are less common in women who have breastfed.

It helps mom and baby bond. Breastfeeding is part of a special relationship between a mom and baby. It provides a positive emotional impact through the release of “feel good” hormones. It also gives the mom and newborn important skin-to-skin contact. Skin-to-skin time is shown to lower stress and help stabilize your baby’s temperature, blood sugar, breathing rate, and heart rate.

Breastfeeding costs a family less than formula feeding. As health care providers, we always focus on the health benefits, but the truth is breastfeeding costs less than formula feeding. There is nothing to manufacture, dispose of, or ship, and it has less impact on the environment than formula.

With this basic knowledge, close to 80% of moms start out breastfeeding. However, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 60% of mothers do not meet their breastfeeding goals.

It isn’t always easy. The high breastfeeding rates of new mothers show most mothers are trying to breastfeed. Although mothers have various reasons for stopping, it may suggest they aren’t getting the support they need to be successful. Some reasons for stopping earlier than intended include: issues with latching, concerns about infant weight, and the mother’s milk production. Some mothers may even struggle with lack of support from within their family and work environment. Every breastfeeding mother is different and there isn’t one solution for every baby. Support from health care providers, family members, and employers can help make a difference to protect a mother’s breastfeeding goals and the overall health of mom and baby.

Breastfeeding at the hospital after delivery is critical for success. The good news is hospitals across the state and country are recognizing their role in protecting and supporting breastfeeding in the early days after delivery and this can impact continued success. UPMC Susquehanna Williamsport is one of 12 Baby Friendly hospitals across the state of PA. Baby Friendly Hospitals are focus on providing evidence-based care to help new moms and babies get off to the best start possible and protect, promote, and support breastfeeding moms. The support in the hospital is just the beginning and continued support after discharge is also necessary.

Family and friends play a role in supporting a mom and baby. It takes time for a mother to learn to breastfeed. Uninterrupted time together with baby in the early days is essential to help begin and establish breastfeeding. During this time, family and friends can support mom by helping care for siblings or doing some of the household chores that need to be done. Help mom care for herself and support her basic needs.

If you are struggling, there is help for you. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Always talk to you doctor if you have any concerns. Your doctor can provide you with additional resources as well as refer you to a specialty trained international board-certified lactation consultant or a lactation counselor who are great resources for assistance for breastfeeding mothers. Also, look for local breastfeeding support groups offered through your local hospital. Many of these support groups are led by lactation counselors or lactation consultants and are a space to meet-up with other new mothers, share stories, and build supporting relationships.

Natalie McCullen, RN, BSN, IBCLC is a lactation consultant with The Birthplace at UPMC Susquehanna. She is certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding.