When I was young, I found it very strange to see women in public breastfeeding their babies. I now think back to my ignorance and wish I had received a better education regarding the benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of breastfeeding for the development of babies.
During my first pregnancy, I decided to breastfeed my baby but I did not produce much milk. Also, some of my lupus maintenance medications were not recommended while breastfeeding. Therefore, I could not breastfeed for very long. However, I learned from this experience and was able to breastfeed a little longer with my second child and produced a lot more breast milk.
My second breastfeeding experience was more successful because our healthcare systems had evolved and provided more help to new mothers. I had a lactation consultant who helped me learn techniques for latching on to my baby, different ways to hold my baby while breastfeeding, and the consultant encouraged me to drink lots of water to avoid dehydration. This education and guidance made a difference in my confidence. I was also comfortable breastfeeding my baby anywhere and was able to express my milk when I returned to work.
Breastfeeding is not a new health trend. There was a time when breastfeeding was the norm. I’m sure we are all aware of how slave mothers were often required to nurse the “master’s” children as well. These women were known as wet nurses. There is evidence of breastfeeding as early as 2000 BC and this continued into the 20th century. In some cultures, women of a certain status would require nannies. During the Renaissance period, historical records reveal that some nannies had contracts and were in fact paid. In the middle of the 19th century, baby bottles and teats were refined and a transition from breastfeeding to feeding infants using animal milk was observed.
Today’s formulas are much safer than substances used decades ago, but breast milk is still considered the best source of infant nutrition for most babies. Antibodies in breast milk help protect babies against disease. Antibodies help strengthen the baby’s immune system. As the infant develops, breast milk changes to meet the needs of the growing infant.
Breastfeeding is also very convenient. With breastfeeding, there is no need to get up in the middle of the night to mix formulas. Mothers can breastfeed their babies anywhere and anytime. Breastfeeding can also help soothe infants when they travel, which often disrupts an infant’s routine. Not to mention that breastfeeding is cheaper. Infant formula can be expensive and, as we have seen in recent months, there is also a risk of shortages of infant formula.
Mothers also reap the benefits of breastfeeding, such as weight loss and reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes and hypertension. There is also research to support stronger mother-baby bonding through breastfeeding. Some of my patients see breastfeeding as a gift they give to their babies to improve their future. Research suggests breastfed babies have fewer ear infections, less obesity, fewer lower respiratory tract infections, and a host of other benefits as well.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and can be continued in conjunction with food once food is introduced into the diet. Advocating for breastfeeding is not an indictment against women who cannot breastfeed for other reasons. Infant formulas are a good alternative to infant nutrition. If you are having difficulty breastfeeding, please contact your local lactation specialist.
your family doctor,
Denise Hooks-Anderson, MD, FAAFP