By Cherrie Welch, M.D., M.P.H. Neonatologist and Pediatrician at Brenner Children’s Hospital

One of a mother’s first decisions is “Should I breastfeed my new baby?” There are many opinions as to what choice a new mom should make. As a pediatrician and neonatologist, I am always encouraging new mothers to breastfeed their infants. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important first decisions a new mom makes and can significantly impact how a baby develops and grows.

There have been numerous public health campaigns to increase awareness of the health benefits for breastfeeding mother and baby diads. In spite of these efforts, only 60%of mothers nationally even attempt to breastfeed and many fewer continue breastfeeding their infant for six months … the minimum time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

To highlight just a few of the benefits, infants who are breastfed are less likely to develop infections during infancy, as well as a variety of other serious disorders throughout their lifetime, including:

 Type 1 diabetes
 Type 2 diabetes
 Lymphoma and leukemia
 Obesity
 High cholesterol
 Asthma

In addition, children who were breastfed have been found, on average, to have a slightly higher IQ than those children who were fed only formula.

Researchers at Brenner Children’s Hospital, part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, continue to study the health benefits of mother’s milk, particularly for infants born prematurely. A study is currently underway to investigate the effects of omega-3 fatty acids, an important component of breast milk, on the developing gastrointestinal tract. Another study is being conducted to determine the effect of breast milk on the maturation of brain waves in preterm infants.

New moms should seek the advice of other breastfeeding mothers, their primary care physicians and lactation consultants to help with feeding issues during the early months. Stick with it. New moms who learn to breastfeed and continue for a month are on the road to success.

Another potential issue is milk production. It is very rare for a mother to physically not be able to breastfeed her infant. One potential reason for an inability to produce milk is prior breast surgery, although many women who have had breast surgery can successfully breastfeed. If a woman can physically not produce milk, then, of course formula or pasteurized human milk from a donor milk bank are acceptable alternatives. Frustration with breastfeeding can also contribute to a mom’s ability to continue to breastfeed, as well as lack of sleep and the demands of caring for a newborn. A lactation consultant can provide tips on how to overcome these issues and help a new mom on her way to successful breastfeeding.

For women with large or inverted nipples, there are now several aids available to help the baby latch on and lactation consultants can teach mothers how to use these. If the baby cannot latch on with these, a mother should consider pumping her breasts and providing the breast milk via bottle. One of the many great things about breast milk is that it is free!

One of the main factors influencing a woman’s decision to breastfeed is the support she has from family and friends to do so. Most mothers make this decision during, or even prior to, the pregnancy. However, research has shown that mothers who initially decide against it can be encouraged to successfully breastfeed and thus provide their infant with all of the known, and yet unknown, benefits of nature’s best infant nutrition. Some breast milk is better than none. Many mothers see breastfeeding as an all or nothing game, but infants can attain benefit from even small amounts of their mother’s milk.

And just because a mother wasn’t successful breastfeeding her first child, does not mean that she shouldn’t try breastfeeding subsequent children. Each child is different. I would encourage new mothers to try again. They might be surprised with the results.

It takes patience and a willingness to try, but the rewards are endless.

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