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Breastfeeding is best

Even before the baby is born, Jackson Hospital’s lactation consultants offer breastfeeding classes. To register for classes, visit jackson.org/events or call 334.293.8497.

When you find out you're pregnant, you have many decisions to make about how to best raise your child. One of the biggest decisions may be about feeding your new bundle of joy. Will you breastfeed or bottlefeed with formula? It’s a personal choice for all new parents, and one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

Breastfeeding benefits last a lifetime

Jackson Hospital lactation consultant Liz Owen, RN, said many moms know the benefits of breastfeeding, but they often don't understand just how much of a difference there is between breast milk and formula. "Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed an infant," Owen said.

In the River Region, Owen estimates only about 25 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed. "Breastfeeding is not just about milk," she explained. "It helps with psychosocial development, emotional development and physical development. Breastfeeding is more active for a baby than bottlefeeding. For the mother, breastfeeding can help with faster recovery after birth; it can decrease bleeding; and it can lower the mother's risk of developing type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and other health issues."

Owen said breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact can contribute to more stable blood sugar levels and vital signs for baby. It can also prevent babies from developing allergies and increase their IQ. For all babies, even those who are not breastfeeding, she suggests as much skin-to-skin contact as possible, with both parents.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast milk feeding for the first six months, with continued breast milk until year 1 and beyond as other foods are introduced," Owen said. "Breast milk changes to meet the needs of a growing infant, there are many substances in breast milk that aren't in formula, and those substances help babies in so many ways. It’s truly amazing. No artificially made formula can do all the things that breast milk can."

Time to get pumped?

Many women wonder if it will be easier to just pump their breast milk, but Liz Owen, RN, lactation consultant, encourages mothers to establish breast milk production by as much direct breastfeeding as possible over the first three to four weeks. If, however, a mother does not want to breastfeed, pumping is an option.

"Unless your baby has special needs or it becomes necessary for some other reason, it is best to avoid pumping for the first three to four weeks," Owen said. "Using a pump may cause too little or too much milk to be made. However, for mothers who will be returning to work, pumping becomes important to providing breast milk for babies. There are a variety of pumps available, and we work with mothers to make sure they select the best one for their needs. We also help them determine when to pump and how to store breast milk."

Problems? We've got answers

As a lactation consultant, Liz Owen, RN, talks to countless women about breastfeeding, so she's well aware of the challenges many women experience.

"Patience and persistence are very important," Owen said. "Even though breastfeeding is natural, there is learning involved for mother and baby. Breastfeeding is nothing like bottlefeeding. Latching problems are more likely to occur when a baby is introduced to an artificial nipple, such as a pacifier or bottle, before the baby has learned to breastfeed well."

Other challenges include:

1. Sore nipples. This can be caused if the baby is not latching on correctly. Avoid astringent soaps, creams and gels that aren't specifically designed for breastfeeding. Mother's milk is naturally healing, so rub a few drops on your nipples and let them air dry.

2 Painfully full (engorged) breasts. Frequent feedings—no more than four hours apart—keep milk moving and help prevent uncomfortable, swollen breasts. Before breastfeeding, express a little milk to soften the breast, areola and nipple.

3. Surging milk flow, sputtering baby. Express some milk before your baby begins to nurse. To help slow the flow as the baby feeds, try compressing the milk ducts with your hand.

4. Plugged milk duct. Massaging the tender lump in a circular motion, applying warm compresses and getting plenty of rest can help. So can feeding your baby often from the affected breast. If the lump doesn't loosen up, consult your lactation specialist—a plugged duct can lead to a breast infection.

5. Breast infection (mastitis). If one breast is hot, swollen and painful and you have flu-like symptoms—such as achiness or fever—see your doctor. He or she may prescribe antibiotics along with fluids, rest and pain medicine. Your infection won't harm your baby, so keep nursing.

Avoid tight bras, which can exacerbate breastfeeding difficulties. Don't hesitate to contact your doctor or lactation specialist when nursing leads to an unusual symptom—or when you need a little extra encouragement and support. Owen said lactation specialists are available to help new moms long after they are discharged from the hospital.

"Breastfeeding can be time consuming and it requires patience, but it's time well spent," Owen said. "We're here to help. For some mothers and babies, it is pretty easy from the beginning; for most others, it gets easier and faster over time. We teach mothers how to know when a baby gets enough milk, which is something many moms worry about. We're here to help make the transition from pregnancy to motherhood and breastfeeding as easy as possible for mom and baby."

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