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The benefits of breastfeeding

Published in Family Medicine, Birthing Services, Pediatrics, Women's Services Author: Jessica Hodson, DO

In my practice, I often get questions from new or expecting moms on breastfeeding. Not only how it benefits the baby, but how it benefits the mother as well.

Before I begin, let me make myself clear that I am in no way trying to make women feel guilty for feeding their infants formula; I am simply trying to give a little breast empowerment. We have all heard the term “breast is best” and that you should breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first six months of life. Yet, do many of us really understand why breastfeeding is recommended?

In my practice I have delivered babies and provided prenatal care. I will be the first to admit that I did not always preach the benefits of breastfeeding and fell into the easy answer of just give a bottle. Then I had my own children and wow what a difference! I started doing some research and had a lot of success with breastfeeding. Now I do understand that some of that success is luck, but the majority of the credit for my successful breastfeeding goes to my lactation nurse who supported me right after my baby was born.

After my own experience with breastfeeding my children, I started discussing breastfeeding increasingly with my patients and realized there is a huge gap in information about breast versus formula feeding. By providing nutrition education to new moms, providers can help those who want to breastfeed feel more comfortable and in turn support successful breastfeeding.

To begin thinking about breastfeeding, let’s start with the word “breast.” For all those women who blush at the sound of this, why is that? It is a normal part of a woman’s body and its sole purpose is to produce milk to feed our infants. Somewhere over the years, breasts became sexualized which is not appropriate. They are a gland with a purpose, just like your gallbladder which produces bile to help digest fatty foods or your pancreas which secrets insulin to regulate blood sugars. If we would all take a step back and remember this, then it would not feel “weird or inappropriate” to have a baby sucking on your nipple (or as my three year old would say “hipple”) and it would not offend others to do so in public!

Besides nutrition, breastfeeding provides other health benefits for moms and babies. After having a baby, it is difficult to find time to work out, especially since you aren’t advised to do so for about six weeks after a vaginal delivery or 12 weeks following a C-section if you haven’t had complications. Eating healthy and exercising portion control can also be hard, so mother nature was awesome and came up with a fix. Breastfeeding burns 500 calories a day, being pregnant only burns an additional 300! Now, obviously diet and exercise are important but this is the jump start that most new moms are asking for with medications like phentermine. Breastfeeding can also help prevent ovulation for the first six weeks and sometimes longer, which means you are less likely to get your period right away, another benefit! The caveat is that it is not fool proof so remember to have a backup birth control method.

Other health benefits for moms who choose to breastfeed include the mother-baby bond. Baby blues and postpartum depression can occur. Studies have shown that moms who breastfeed have a better bond with their infant and are less likely to develop postpartum depression, or only experience a milder case of it.

Another benefit of breastfeeding is cost. Formula is expensive, especially if you need any specialized versions as those are typically sold in a smaller quantity for a higher price. Your own body produces the milk you need for FREE! Who doesn’t love free stuff?

There are so many health benefits for babies that I will not list all of them, just a couple.

  • First, a baby’s immune system does not kick in until they are six months old, that means they have no defense against infections. Breast milk contains antibodies from mom which pass to the baby and fight infections for them until their immune system kicks in!
  • Second, I know the word “formula” sounds very scientific and therefore we assume that it is better than anything in nature, however, every couple of years companies are adding ingredients to formula to replicate the nutrients that occur naturally in breast milk! In fact, there have actually been issues where companies forgot to add certain important vitamins like B1. Again, here comes mother nature to the rescue, our bodies can provide everything our babies need, well almost. We know that moms need to take in at least 4000 international units of Vitamin D3 to pass enough to a baby if they are exclusively breastfed and/or a baby needs 400 international units a day as a supplement. This is mostly because we are no longer out in the sun working on the fields or farm like our ancestors, and because we live in Minnesota where it is cold and gray for nine months of the year!

Babies can have a hard time maintaining their body temperatures especially those born prematurely, we see over and over that a baby who is skin – to – skin with mom can normalize their temperature, what better way to be close to mom than to breast feed? Babies who are breastfed are also less likely to be overweight or have diabetes as an adult. When a baby nurses, it only takes in what it needs; a woman’s breasts adjust to what the baby takes in and then makes milks depending on how often the baby feeds and for how long. When we use formula we often overfeed our infants and the habit of overeating then can continue as the child grows older.

With all this said, please remember, I am not trying to shame any mother or father, biological or adoptive, who cannot or chooses not to breastfeed. For decades, babies have been raised on formula and do just fine. I am simply sharing information for those of you who would like to breastfeed or are undecided. For more information see your physician, myself or better yet one of our wonderful lactation consultants!

CentraCare Health Offers the Following Lactation Support

St. Cloud Hospital Breastfeeding Help Line offers lactation resources seven days a week. Help line hours: 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. After hours: leave a message and calls will be returned within 24 hours. Call 320-251-2700, ext. 52311.

CentraCare Clinic - Health Plaza Pediatrics: A board certified lactation consultant is available by phone for breastfeeding advice or in clinic for face-to-face consults. For more information or to set up an appointment, call 320-654-3610, ext 70268.

CentraCare Health — Long Prairie: Certified lactation consultants are available by phone or appointment for breastfeeding questions and problems for assistance in obtaining breast pumps. For more information, call 320-732-2131.

CentraCare Health — Monticello: 60-minute, one-on-one sessions with a certified lactation consultant are available. For more information or to schedule a session, call 763-271-2218.

CentraCare Health — Paynesville: Certified lactation consultants are available 24/7 by calling 320-243-3767.

CentraCare Health offers the “Successful Breastfeeding” class, designed for expectant and new parents interested in learning more about breastfeeding. Register for the class in St. Cloud or in Monticello.

Your health care provider is another resource for answering breastfeeding questions.