March is Parenting Awareness Month. The earliest choice parents can make to ensure their child gets the best right from birth is to breastfeed. It is the natural way, and as long as a mother and child are able to, it's the healthiest and most affordable choice for both mother and child.
Countless studies have shown breastfeeding is the healthiest option for infants. It decreases the risk for asthma, allergies, ear infections, respiratory infections, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, iron-deficiency anima, SIDS, diabetes, digestive problems, childhood cancers and dental problems. It's also been proven to reduce the chance of a mother developing diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, hypertensive and cardiovascular diseases.
At the Portage Health Family Birthing Center, we've been focusing on promoting breastfeeding a lot over the past year. Recently, I completed training to officially make me a certified lactation consultant, and our birthing center became a bag-free hospital, officially recognized by the good people at banthebags.org.
What that means is that Portage Health no longer gives our new parents free formula bags with formula samples. This is something we're proud of, and we hope other birthing centers will do the same. Studies prove that parents who were given these formula samples used formula much earlier in their infant's life.
At our birthing center we focus on helping mothers nurse as quickly as possible. In fact, the World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative suggest mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth. It might take longer to actually nurse, but we try to help mothers have that skin-to-skin contact with their children immediately.
They also suggest that artificial nipples or pacifiers should not be used until breastfeeding habits are firmly established. That's usually by three-to-four weeks of age.
Another thing we've found to be vital to a mother-child relationship while in the birthing center is keeping the baby in the room with the mother. We call this rooming-in. This encourages unrestricted breastfeeding whenever the child needs. It's important for mothers to see a baby's signs of feeding readiness.
Rooming-in allows mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day in the hospital. Moms can observe early feeding cues since newborns need a minimum of 10-to-12 feedings in a 24-hour period of time, often with no particular pattern of frequency. If your baby is kept in the nursery, early feeding signs may be missed and moms may have more difficulty getting a crying baby to latch.
We also suggest giving newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated. There are medical indications for supplementing with formula (dehydration, hypoglycemia and certain types of jaundice for example) and your pediatrician will advise you on the best decision for your baby. However, supplementing with formula when there is no medical need can reduce duration of breastfeeding, increase an infant's risk for reflux, colic (Cohen-Silver) and allergies, and reduce the protective benefits of exclusive breastfeeding mentioned above.
It's also important to realize the economic benefits of breastfeeding. Families can save more than $1,000 a year in formula alone. Employers and the community also benefit with fewer health insurance claims, less employee time off for sick children and higher employee productivity.
Breastfeeding is something we should all be proud of and work together to make it more of a norm. The government is helping, including the Workplace Breastfeeding Law, which was created in 2010. This law mandates employers with more than 50 employees to provide "reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth each time such employee has the need to express the milk." In addition, the employer must provide a private place other than a bathroom.
When an expectant mother talks about breastfeeding, listen to her, support her personal breastfeeding goals and praise her for her choice. It's better for the baby, her and the entire community. When you see a mother feeding her infant at the "breast-aurant," please do not be offended, glare disapprovingly or harass and humiliate her. Breasts are made for breastfeeding and breast milk is species-specific, designed for human babies. When a mom chooses to breastfeed her child, everyone benefits.
Learn more at cdc.gov/breastfeeding.
Editor's note: Joye Battisfore is a certified lactation consultant at the Portage Health Family Birthing Center.