Choosing to Breastfeed

Choosing to Breastfeed
by Jan Moeller, RNC

What is the profile of a mother today? She may be a career woman who postpones family until established in a profession, or the professional woman who chooses to stay home rather than continue her career. She may be a teen parent or a single mother struggling to provide a living for her family. She may be part of a couple who must maintain dual incomes, thus requiring a return to the workplace after an 8-12 week maternity leave. She comes from varied cultural, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds with or without the support of close family and friends. One thread in common is that she will be making many decisions throughout her pregnancy, with feeding methods for her new baby as one of the most significant.

Women face a common challenge when choosing to breastfeed in a society that has emerged from a period in history where most babies were formula-fed. And formulas of today do provide adequate convenient nutrition. However, given all the positive and convincing research about the benefits of breastfeeding, to both mother and baby, the highest percentage of women (59.7%) chose to breastfeed in the year 1995, the highest rate since 1982.

Early in pregnancy and perhaps even before becoming pregnant, women begin to explore their feelings and preferences for infant feeding. The decision to breastfeed should be an informed one. One must know that almost every woman can breastfeed if she chooses. There is no way to duplicate the nutritional superiority of human milk. It not only contains the proteins, sugars, fats, vitamins and minerals which are vital to a newborn’s growth and development, it also contains substances which improve resistance to bacteria and viruses.

Breast milk is most easily digested, resulting in less gastric problems such as colic, diarrhea and constipation. It is free and is always prepared for baby at the perfect temperature. There are physical benefits to mothers as well which include contraction of the uterus to its pre-pregnant size sooner, an earlier return to pre-pregnant weight and the reduction in the incidence of breast cancer in later years. These physical benefits to mom and baby are second only to the psychological benefits of breastfeeding. There is a unique closeness between the breastfeeding couple and a sense of self-fulfillment for the mother, a result of doing something that no one else can do for your baby.

While a "natural" activity, there are ways to ensure breastfeeding success. Knowledge is a powerful tool that will increase confidence in the ability to breastfeed. In planning for your birth experience, you will want to choose a supportive healthcare team from obstetrician, midwife, pediatrician to your Birth Center. It is reasonable and advisable to discuss your preferences and philosophies for the care and support which you desire from them. Your care providers should assure you a high standard of medical care and reliable information which will help you make choices and form a framework for the course of your pregnancy. READ! READ! READ! Bookstores and libraries contain a multitude of excellent printed resources as well as video presentations on the "how to’s" of baby care and feeding.

Your Birth Center must meet your needs for early first nursing experiences, unlimited contact with your newborn as well as knowledgeable, approachable staff members who can assist you with early mother-baby breastfeeding interactions. Talk with friends who have given birth in your Birth Center, tour the facility and ask questions of the staff you meet to determine a comfort level for their practices and support. Family centered care will encourage the evolution of individuals to become families. The family unit, in its own uniqueness, must be supported and nurtured during this significant life event.

Ongoing support is crucial, either from friends who have successfully breastfed, lactation specialists, or community groups such as LaLeche League, available in most towns. Questions and problems will arise and it is wise to know your resources and how to contact them before they are needed.

In a December, 1997, a statement by the Academy of Pediatrics, the Academy recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies for at least the first twelve months of life and as long after as is mutually desired. Given this strong endorsement, results of current breastfeeding research and the observable physical and emotional growth demonstrated by breastfeeding mothers and babies, who could question that breastfeeding is a gift we can give ourselves and our children?

Editorial provided by Jan Moeller, RNC, Manager of Milford Hospital’s Family Childbirth Center in Milford, Connecticut. She has been a direct provider of mother-baby nursing care for twenty years, and has managed the maternity services at Milford Hospital for thirteen years.