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The Benefits of Breast-feeding

August is national breast-feeding month — a time to educate new mothers on the benefits of breast-feeding. For moms, breast-feeding is a great way to shed postpartum weight, bond with her newborn and ward off postpartum depression. For parents and caregivers, breast-feeding saves money and time. Bottle feeding requires parents to warm bottles, mix formula and wash bottles and nipples — on top of an annual cost of roughly $1,500 for formula. Breast milk is free and readily accessible.

Babies and breast milk

Breast-feeding is really about the baby. A mother’s body produces colostrum during pregnancy and right after birth. This thick yellowish milk is full of nutrients and antibodies that protect your baby. A few days later, mature milk provides the exact amount of fat, sugar, water and protein to help your baby grow.

“In addition to nutrients, breast-feeding strengthens your baby’s immune system so she has fewer infections and it improves a baby’s bowel function to minimize bouts of diarrhea,” says Nelson Echebiri, M.D., obstetrician/gynecologist with Meritus Medical Group’s Women’s Health Center at Robinwood. “If you ask me, breast milk is the best gourmet food for your baby.”

Challenges of breast-feeding

So why doesn’t every mother breast-feed? There’s a skill to breast-feeding and it requires mom to relax, but when your baby is crying for his only source of food, it’s not relaxing. Finding the right position to hold your baby for breast-feeding presents a challenge too. Do you use the football, cradle or side-lying hold? Some mothers develop sore nipples, plugged ducts and engorgement, which turns something nurturing into something painful.

Make breast-feeding work

Here are some ways you can become successful at breast-feeding:

  • Get some help. Sign up for a breast-feeding class one month prior to giving birth. After giving birth, get expert advice from lactation consultants while in the hospital.
  • Keep the milk flowing. Even if you can’t get your baby to breast-feed, you can rent a hospital-grade electric pump from a medical supply store like Equipped for Life and express your milk into bottles. Milk production can be less when strictly pumping so you may need to supplement breast milk with infant formula.
  • Protect yourself by using a silicon nipple shield. The shield acts as a skin barrier and creates a stronger latch for the baby.
  • Let dad give it a go. For moms returning to work, investing in an electric breast pump provides a stash of breast milk — and lets dad and baby bond during bottle feeding.

Not for everyone

For some moms, breast-feeding is just not them and that’s OK. Today’s infant formula contains brain-nourishing nutrients such as DHA, choline and essential vitamins. “Most babies do well with the basic formula, but if an infant has issues with fussiness, gas or reflux, there are a variety of products to help with these issues,” explains Matthew Kearney, PA-C, with Meritus Medical Group’s White Oak Pediatric and Adult Medicine. He also suggests comparing nutritional labels when deciding whether to use generic or name-brand infant formulas.

If you’re expecting a baby, talk to your obstetrician about breast-feeding and formula choices. Looking for an obstetrician or pediatrician? Call Meritus Medical Group at 301-714-4411 to find a provider close to you.

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