For optimal nutrition and long-term health benefits, breastfeeding is best
- Breastfeeding in public is legal and protected by federal law.
- Legislation in most states gives women the right to nurse in public.
- Exposing a breast to nurse in public is not indecent exposure, and you may breastfeed your baby anywhere that a mother is entitled to be (except in a moving car, where even a hungry baby must be secured in a child safety seat).
- Your employer must also allow you to nurse during work breaks; day care centers must provide nursing facilities; and nursing mothers are exempt from jury duty.
The benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby are significant
By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores later in childhood, reduced risk of diabetes and obesity, a lowered risk of certain infections and illnesses, fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
While not all women choose to breastfeed, and some women have difficulties breastfeeding due to various complications, doctors try to encourage all mothers to breastfeed due to the long list of health benefits for both mother and baby.
“Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything your baby needs to grow,” said Dr. Shannon Garton, Family Medicine Physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Edwards Medical Offices. “And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria.”
Infants who are not breastfed are associated with an increased incidence of infectious morbidity, as well as elevated risks of childhood obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome, according to a 2009 report in the journal Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology. For mothers, failure to breastfeed “is associated with an increased incidence of premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, retained gestational weight gain, type 2 diabetes, myocardial infarction, and the metabolic syndrome.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend breastmilk as the optimal source of nutrients in term infants for the first 6 months of life. The World Health Organization, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the United States Preventive Services also agree with this recommendation.
“After 6 months, solid foods are introduced, but breastfeeding is recommended to continue to at least 12 months of age,” said Dr. Jeannine Benson, Internal Medicine Physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Edwards Medical Offices. “After 12 months it is a personal decision by the mother as to how long she continues to breastfeed.”
In addition to the health benefits and the bonding experienced by mother and baby, breastfeeding also has another trick up its sleeve: it burns calories, helping many women lose pregnancy weight faster.
“A breastfeeding woman burns almost 20 calories to make just an ounce of breast milk. If an infant eats 19 to 30 ounces a day, that’s anywhere between 380 to 600 calories burned,” Garton said. “It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth.”
Some women worry that babies might not be getting enough milk, or that their breasts aren’t producing enough. Garton said a good rule of thumb is that a baby who’s wetting six to eight diapers a day is most likely getting enough milk.
“Avoid supplementing your breast milk with formula, and never give your infant plain water,” she said. “Your body needs the frequent, regular demand of your baby’s nursing to keep producing milk.”
There are some myths about breastfeeding, too. Some women mistakenly think they can’t breastfeed if they have small breasts, for example. Garton said that’s untrue.
“Good nutrition, plenty of rest, and staying well hydrated all help, too. You can get breast milk by hand or pump it with a breast pump. It may take a few days or weeks for your baby to get used to breast milk in a bottle, so begin practicing early if you’re going back to work,” Garton said. “Breast milk can be safely used within 2 days if it’s stored in a refrigerator. You can freeze breast milk for up to 6 months. Don’t warm up or thaw frozen breast milk in a microwave. That will destroy some of its immune-boosting qualities, and it can cause fatty portions of the breast milk to become super hot. Thaw breast milk in the refrigerator or in a bowl of warm water instead.”
Alternatives to breastfeeding
If a mother has trouble breastfeeding due to difficulties with latching, poor production or sore nipples, Garton recommends getting a lactation consultant early on before giving up on breastfeeding.
“In some cases babies may be premature, have a birth defect, or have other reasons which make breastfeeding difficult. In these cases, there may be alternative methods to aid breastfeeding,” she said. “Some women don’t want to breastfeed in public. Some prefer the flexibility of knowing that a father or any caregiver can bottle-feed the baby any time.”
Women who choose not to breastfeed can opt for donated breastmilk or formulas. For infants having digestive issues, there are partially hydrolyzed (digested) or fully hydrolyzed formula.
“These types of formulas break down the proteins into more easily digestible form. Many babies who are fussy and gassy without a full allergy may do well with the partially hydrolyzed type,” Garton said. “Also there is an option to use soy based formula. If there is difficulty with tolerating formula, it should be discussed with a physician.”