Breastfeeding is often thought of as one of the most effective ways to ensure your baby’s health and survival. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, if breastfeeding were scaled up to near universal levels, a staggering 820,000 child lives would be saved every year.
If you are a new mother who is considering breastfeeding or perhaps struggling to get your newborn to feed, Dr. Cameual Wright, the medical director for CareSource, a nonprofit health plan, has tips to share on the best ways to breastfeed your child and details on the the health benefits both you and your child will receive from this special experience. Since August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, now is the perfect time for families to learn and understand the positive outcomes that come from breastfeeding in order to keep your new baby happy and healthy.
Breast milk is widely considered to be the optimal form of nutrition for babies. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it is strongly recommended that mothers exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of their baby’s life, followed by at least 12 months of continued breastfeeding. In fact, you’ll see the most benefits if you start to nurse as soon as possible, and it’s recommended that you start within the first hour of a baby’s life.
This is because of the crucial skin-to-skin contact that babies need when they’re first born. It’s also because breast milk has all the elements babies require to grow strong and healthy, including proteins, minerals, sugar, water, fat and more. The components of the breast milk will also change to adapt to the baby’s needs, making this a unique and special form of nutrition.
When babies are born, their immune systems are immature. Breast milk helps transfer critical immunities from the mother to the baby, protecting against infections and reducing the rates of later health problems, including diabetes, obesity and asthma, according to the American Pregnancy Association. There is also evidence that babies who are breastfed have a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to a 2017 study in Pediatrics. Additionally, breast milk is easier for babies to digest, and it’s free, which is an important point to make when considering how much our members pay for formula.
In terms of the health benefits for breastfeeding mothers, the positives are endless. When you breastfeed right after delivery, it helps your uterus contract and return to its normal size, and it assists in decreasing the bleeding that comes after pregnancy. According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, extended breastfeeding also significantly reduces the risk of ovarian cancer in women. One of the most beautiful benefits mothers can receive from breastfeeding is the special bonding moments created between mother and child. Breastfeeding is a link that can only be shared between a mother and her child, and it helps develop that lifelong relationship.
Despite all these clear benefits, it can still be difficult to breastfeed for the first time, or to breastfeed if you’re balancing life as a working mother. Ideally, mothers should be breastfeeding their babies regularly throughout the day. That regular stimulation will continue to trigger a mother’s breasts to give milk. When you first start breastfeeding, it’s important to aim to nurse 8 to 12 times a day, or even more, according to the La Leche League, a top resource for nursing mothers. With frequent and effective nursing during the first week, milk production will actually increase 10 to nearly 20 times as much.
The biggest issue with regular nursing tends to be getting the baby to latch on properly. This frustration and stress in the mother can result in less breast milk for the baby. Try to be patient — it will take time for you and your baby to get into a regular feeding pattern rhythm. Most hospitals will have lactation consultants, and mothers should feel comfortable to reach out to these professionals with any questions if the issues persist.
If you’re a working mother, you can absolutely still breastfeed. You’ll just need a breast pump and a private space at work. Most offices now have these designated areas, and Medicaid will cover the cost of breast pumps for members.
At CareSource, we encourage all of our pregnant members to connect with case management workers. These professionals can link them to important resources in their community throughout the pregnancy and after. They can also talk through any issues or frustrations the mother might be going through as it relates to the pregnancy or breastfeeding, and they can get you in touch with a provider if needed. Visit www.caresource.com for more information and to receive guidance during this important time in your life as a new mother.
Dr. Cameual Wright is medical director for CareSource.