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Breast Feeding

Breastfeeding Leads To Wellness

So, you are into "Wellness"! How appropriate that you should be considering, or are, breastfeeding! Actually, breastfeeding leads to wellness for two people, at least! You, your baby, your family, your workplace, and your community. If you are already breastfeeding, you probably know the health advantages to yourself: Faster return to your pre-pregnant weight and figure; a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer; and a lower probability of osteoporosis in later life.

Both you and your baby experience a sense of well-being as the hormone prolactin is secreted from your pituitary gland. Your infant becomes securely attached to you and you enjoy a healthy interaction between you and your baby. Nothing can replace that first time when a baby pauses to smile up at you from the breast!

Your baby will also benefit from breastfeeding into infancy, childhood and even beyond! During infancy there is a lower incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), gastrointestinal illnesses, urinary tract infections, colic and milk and other food allergies. Your child will spend less time in the doctor's office for ailments such as otitis media (fluid in the middle ear), upper respiratory infections, bronchiolitis, pneumonia and asthma. Older children are at a decreased risk of some more serious health problems such as leukemia, diabetes mellitus, Crohn's disease and even obesity! Your gift of breastfeeding also extends into intellectual, visual, psychological, and social advantages for your child. The IQ of breastfed babies is about 10 points higher than that of infants fed formula. This intellectual advantage extends into adolescence and even adulthood, as evidenced by good high school achievement test scores. Adults who were nurtured at the breast as infants display improved behavior, better communication skills, and are more confident, self-reliant individuals.

So how do your family, your workplace and your community benefit from you breastfeeding your child? Your family is certainly healthier and under less stress if your child stays well. Your workplace benefits by having an employee who takes fewer days off to be at the hospital or doctor's office with a sick child. Your community benefits by you using fewer health care resources, producing less waste by not using and discarding the packaging needed for marketing formula, and by you nurturing an individual who will likely become an asset to his or her community.

If you are considering breastfeeding your baby, congratulations! The rewards awaiting you are great! Do be sure to give yourself plenty of time for preparation during your pregnancy. Talk to your obstetrician or nurse midwife about your feeding plans for your baby. Although there are very few medical conditions that might make breastfeeding difficult, some of these might be addressed during your pregnancy. One example is Hypothyroidism (having lower than normal levels of thyroid hormones). Since lactation is linked to normal thyroid function, it is important that your thyroid hormone level be checked, since pregnancy itself places extra demands on even the normal thyroid gland. If you are diabetic, it is important to keep your glucose levels in control. This will help your ability to breastfeed successfully. Check your nipples during pregnancy. Short, flat or inverted nipples can be helped with breast shells worn inside the bra in the latter part of pregnancy. The newer "contact" nipple shields may be worn during breastfeeding to help the baby latch and elongate the nipple.

Your health care providers will be able to help you achieve your breastfeeding goals if you let them know of your preferences well in advance of the time of delivery. Talk to them about the most breastfeeding-friendly pain control. If you wish to nurse your baby in the delivery room or as soon as possible after the birth, make that clear. Imprinting (infant's first oral feeding experience) at the breast enhances the success of breastfeeding. Hence, bottles and pacifiers, if they are to be used at all, should be withheld unless medically necessary. The terms, non-separation and rooming-in should also be familiar to you. Don't hesitate to request these, as they also enhance your likelihood of success.

Do not be surprised or discouraged if your baby wishes to nurse every one or two hours on the first day of life. Colostrum, or early milk, is highly nutritious and beneficial to your baby, but it comes in small quantities and is rapidly absorbed and digested. Colostrum helps the baby's gut to develop and to move the meconium (first stools) to pass out of the body. This helps to decrease the intensity of neonatal jaundice (a condition characterized by yellowness of the skin), which is seen to some degree in most normal babies. Frequent feeding and good breast drainage in the first few days also help you, in that breast engorgement (swelling and obstruction of milk flow) is much less likely to occur. If for some reason your baby cannot stimulate and empty your breast regularly, request a breast pump. This will help ensure a more comfortable and adequate lactation experience for you and your baby.

Your baby may lose a little weight in the first few days after birth. A normal amount is 3 to 4% of the birth weight over the first 3 to 4 days. If the infant loses close to 8%, however, then milk production and /or transfer to the infant should be evaluated by a health care professional. Options for correcting the situation include enhancing your milk production, improving milk transfer to your infant, supplementing your infant's nutrition with your pumped breast milk or a compatible formula, using a feeding device that helps breastfeeding and lactation (e.g., a supplemental nursing system attached to the breast, a finger-feeding device, a syringe, cup or spoon, or a feeding tube). Bottle-feeding is best postponed until the baby is 3 to 5 weeks old in order to avoid nipple confusion or preference - a difficult situation to reverse at times. By about 2 weeks of age, your baby should be back to birth weight and gaining 1 to 1.5 ounces per day.

From this point on, your breastfeeding experience should be a pleasant one. On occasion, however, there are hurdles to be dealt with. Please try not to become discouraged too quickly! Help is available! Visit us again at NetWellness and Ask An Expert! We would be delighted to hear from you and will do our best to answer your questions so that you may continue onwards with HAPPY BREASTFEEDING!

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Last Reviewed: Jun 21, 2007


Professor Emeritus, Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati