By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Breastfeeding is one of the most healthy things a mother can do for her newborn baby.
It helps create a deeper connection between mother and child, and provides children the vital nutrients they need for survival and growth.
It’s also something that doesn’t always come natural to everyone and can provide stress for a new mother if her intention was to breastfeed.
Nearly two out of three infants are not exclusively breastfed for the initial recommended six months, according to the World Health Organization.
“Breastfeeding is beneficial in so many ways for both the mother and child. The child receives essential nutrients from the mother’s milk,” said Amy Ilardi, a certified lactation consultant at Oswego Health. “It’s also an incredible bonding time between mother and child.”
Ilardi works with delivering mothers to increase their chances of having a long and successful breastfeeding experience. She talks about five aspects of breastfeeding.
When it comes to breastfeeding, myths run rampant. Common ones include the notion that breastfeeding hurts and a laundry list of certain foods to avoid while breastfeeding.
“There are a lot of old grandmother’s tales about what to eat and behaviors around breastfeeding,” said Ilardi. “But there are so many interesting facts that people should know about breastfeeding including that the type of milk changes as the child is growing to give them different nutrients they need. It is really incredible what the human body can do.”
2. Breastfeeding benefits
There are many benefits of breastfeeding, for both the lactating parent and infant. Breastfeeding can help protect babies against some short- and long-term illnesses and diseases. Maternal health benefits of breastfeeding include reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Recovery from childbirth can be quicker and with less risk of heavy postpartum bleeding, said Ilardi.
Breastfeeding moms release hormones and have benefits for a woman’s uterus. It can offer lifelong benefits so that is why many professionals advocate for breastfeeding if you can.
3. Breastfeeding trends
While breastfeeding has been encouraged in recent history, guidelines have changed to respect to how long it should occur.
“The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented even to the point where the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months. Then they went further and recommended that with a complement of solid food, mothers can continue breastfeeding until 2 years old and beyond,” Ilardi said.
The recent guidelines published by the AAP are supported by several previous studies confirming that the nutritional content of breast milk remains relatively consistent into the second year of life. Although zinc and potassium levels appear to be reduced during the second year of life, total protein content, as well as lactoferrin, lysozyme and immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels appear to increase.
4. Covid-19 and breastfeeding
Current evidence suggests that breast milk is not likely to spread the virus to babies. If you have COVID-19, wash your hands before breastfeeding, and always wear a mask within six feet of your infant. Get a lot of rest and take good care of yourself. Follow CDC recommendations regarding isolation from others.
“We recommend that mothers can still breastfeed if they have COVID-19 if they follow the CDC guidelines,” she added. “It would be some of the same advice we would give if the mother had various other viruses. You just have to be continuously diligent on handwashing and wearing a face mask.”
5. Ask for help
Ilardi received training and competency verification in breastfeeding and human lactation support, including assessing the latching and feeding process, providing corrective interventions, counseling mothers, understanding and applying knowledge of milk production including in special circumstances and other commonly encountered situations. There are currently more than 23,000 certified lactation counselors in the US.
“In the hospital there are lactation experts so I would advise families to take advantage of that,” she said. “You can’t be afraid to ask questions. If you struggle then you need to get help because the resources are available to you in ways that were not the case decades ago. We would definitely recommend that before simply deciding not to breastfeed.”