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Benefits of Breast-feeding for Mom and Baby

An expert weighs in on the advantages of breast-feeding and tips on how to make it work for you – just in time National Breast-feeding Month in August

Looking for a beneficial but affordable way to feed your baby? Well, look no further than your own chest. Mothers today have all kinds of options when it comes to feeding their baby, but breast-feeding is the most affordable and boasts a ton of benefits for mom and baby. These benefits are celebrated – and promoted – during National Breast-feeding Month in August, which is kicked off my World Breast-feeding Week Aug. 1-7, 2014.

In order to understand why breast-feeding is so beneficial and how you do it, Metro Parent asked Elaine Webber, DNP, certified pediatric nurse practitioner and certified lactation consultant at Botsford Hospital to weigh in.

Weighing the benefits

Webber recommends that if a mother can breast-feed, she should. Whether she exclusively chooses to breast-feed or mixes breast-feeding with formula feeding, mom and baby can reap some of the benefits that come along with breast-feeding.

"I think one of the biggest misconceptions to formula-feeding and breast-feeding is comparing them apples to apples," she says. "Breast milk is unique and made specifically for human babies, your baby, (and) there are significant health benefits for baby," she says.

Formula-fed babies experience more ear infections and diarrhea than their breast-fed counterparts. Into later childhood, breast-fed babies see a reduction in asthma, childhood obesity, Type 1 diabetes and Crohn's Disease. There is also a 36 percent less chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome if the mother breast-feeds at all after a month, Webber explains.

"From the more practical standpoint, it's cheap," she adds. "Even if you purchase a high-quality pump for (around) $200-$250, formula is (about) $100-$200 a month. Breast milk is free."

Plus, breast milk is always available at the right quantities for baby, always the right temperature and never leaves a mess to clean up.

There are some advantages for mom, too.

"Moms who breast-feed see a reduction in Type 2 diabetes, pre-menopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer depending on how long they have breast-fed," Webber says.

They will also experience less post-partum bleeding, more time before starting their periods again and a special feeling of closeness with their baby.

Moms can expect nipple tenderness and soreness – plus breast engorgement. However, if the nipples become anything beyond sore or the breasts become painful and hard, consult a doctor or lactation consultant, Webber explains.

To avoid nipple soreness make sure the baby is latched correctly. Follow these tips:

  • Make sure baby is awake and hungry
  • Keep baby close so you can respond to her cues
  • Keep him skin-to-skin and under a blanket when it's time to eat
  • Wait for that big, open mouth
  • Never push the nipple into baby's mouth

Apart from these side effects, the only real disadvantage to breast-feeding is what Webber calls a "perceived disadvantage" – that mom is too "tied down" to breast-feed.

Breast-feeding breakdown

First off, it's important to know that baby will gain what it needs from the breast milk, even at the expense of the mother's health. Therefore, it is important for mom to eat right.

Webber doesn't have a specific list of things that should be eaten while breast-feeding, but instead recommends that mom eats a well-balanced diet full of proteins, fruits and vegetables.

"We generally tell moms to eat what they like eating," she says.

In order to supply enough nutrients to supplement mom and baby, she suggests adding 500 more calories to the food intake pre-pregnancy – that equals roughly an extra peanut butter sandwich with a few pieces of fruit.

She also notes that moms should satisfy their thirst, but they don't have to drink milk to make milk. Sometimes a baby will have a reaction to something mom ate or drank and then mom may have to stay away from certain foods.

"Everything is very personal," she says.

Babies should be fed around eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period and should have two to three bowel movements a day, accompanied by frequent wet diapers. Breast-fed babies will produce loose and yellow bowel movements that don't smell. While newborns will lose some weight in the first days of life, within two to three weeks, the baby should "gain back to their birth weight," Webber notes.

Most mothers will make enough milk to feed their baby, but the amount of milk made depends on the amount a mother breast-feeds.

"It's really important that they start breast-feeding their baby first after birth," she says. "Early supplement of formula depends on how often the baby breast-feeds."

It is not recommended that moms drink alcohol while they are breast-feeding because the alcohol will transfer to the breast milk. However, a glass here and there is acceptable because the affected milk can be pumped out after a specific amount of time based on the amount of alcohol. Most medications are cleared as being safe to take while breast-feeding. Plus, any antibodies mom has, baby gets too.

Does breast-feeding sound like something for you and your baby? Check out these tips from Webber:

  • Educate yourself on breastfeeding before "labor day"
  • Surround yourself with pro-breast-feeders
  • Choose a knowledgeable doctor or lactation specialist
  • Make friends with other breast-feeding mommies
  • Remember, this is a life-long gift to your child

Obviously, every mom, baby and situation is going to be different and the decision to breastfeed should be left between mom, dad and doctor. Webber, however, recommends it. 

"My approach to breast-feeding is breast-feeding as opposed to no breast-feeding, she says. "We don't want to put up barriers and say if you can't exclusively do it don't do it, (because) it's absolutely worth doing."

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