I've been thinking about topics I may have missed, and I got to thinking about one of my favorite parts of motherhood....breastfeeding. This is one of those difficult postpartum tasks that many women unfortunately give up on due to struggles with latch, pumping, etc. I'd like to encourage my patients out there to not give up! As most of you know, breastfeeding has sooooo many benefits to the baby as well as for yourself. To start with, it provides your baby with the right amount fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and water for your baby's growth and hydration. Secondly, it provides your baby with antibodies you've made towards infections which supports your baby's immune system and prevents illness in your baby. It may also decrease the risk of SID (sudden infant death syndrome) in the first year of life. Third, it's FREE! What can motivate you more than saving money on formula? I don't know about you, but that was a huge motivator for me:)
Ok, now that we've covered some benefits for the baby, let's cover benefits for you. First off, as your baby breastfeeds as a newborn, the hormone oxytocin is released in your body and this release causes your uterus to cramp and go back to it's original size. This further decreases your bleeding and risk for postpartum hemorrhage- yeah! Second benefit to you is that breastfeeding decreases your risk for breast cancer and possibly other gynecologic cancers. It may also help you lose weight faster and get back to your pre-pregnancy weight.
So why do people stop breastfeeding? The major reason I see is difficulty with latch or breast infections. One way to help encourage breastfeeding is education. I encourage my patients to take breastfeeding classes prior to delivery to learn about positioning, latch, pumping and storing milk (if you have to go back to work or be away from your baby), and signs and symptoms of infection. Fortunately, breast infections are usually easy to treat with antibiotics or creams, and if you stick it out, the infection will cure and you continue breastfeeding. Please feel free to call if you think you have an infection or need help with this. There is also Le Leche League and lactation consultants available through the hospital to help you as well. Do not give up!
Lastly, there are a few conditions when a woman should not breastfeed. If you have HIV, herpes lesions on your breast, or tuberculosis you should not breastfeed. However, most other illnesses including respiratory viruses, flu, stomach viruses, and other bacterial infections (including mastitis) are still safe to breastfeed. Many medications are also safe with breastfeeding, but check with your provider or pediatrician if you are unsure what medications are safe.
One last note- make sure you are eating plenty of healthy calories with breastfeeding. You must consume approximately 500-800 calories more per day to make milk and you must drink plenty of water- at least 8-10 glasses per day, if not more. If you begin exercising, you may also need to increase your calories beyond the 800 calories to continue to make milk. If you think your milk supply is drying up, it may be that you are not consuming or drinking enough fluids. It actually takes more calories to make milk than it does to grow a baby in pregnancy- so don't skip meals trying to lose weight. The pregnancy weight will gradually come off with time.