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Both Mom and Baby Can Benefit

Laura Ho Breast-Feeding

For a few thousand years, there was no question about where newborns and infants would get the food they needed. Breast-feeding was, for the most part, the one and only option.

Then for a few decades beginning in the 1950s, popular opinion shifted dramatically. Many of us alive today were raised on formula.

Over the past several years, however, medical professionals have rediscovered the overwhelmingly positive benefits of breast-feeding for the health and well-being of children. Among these are fewer childhood illnesses while breast-feeding, half the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a better immune system as children grow into adulthood, stronger bones, lower likelihood of obesity and a significantly lower risk for chronic illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and gastrointestinal illnesses.

As if better health weren’t enough, babies also gain tremendous psychological and emotional benefits from the opportunities for intimacy and bonding between mom and baby that breast-feeding offers. Yet it is still a somewhat mysterious topic for many women. Here are three of the most common misconceptions about breastfeeding:

I want to breast-feed my baby, but my body hasn’t produced enough milk. Many women expect to have abundant breast milk available by the time their baby arrives. The reality is that your body doesn’t begin producing milk for three to five days after your child is born. Instead, your breasts release a substance called colostrum, and it’s the perfect first food for your newborn—packed with nutrients and antibodies and easy for your baby to digest. Your newborn’s stomach is about the size of a marble, so he or she doesn’t need a large volume of food yet. Those first few times you breast-feed will signal your body to produce milk, and it will be there right on cue when your baby is ready for it.

I’m concerned about what breast-feeding will do to my health. You can rest easy knowing that, just as breast-feeding offers many benefits for your baby, it has been proven to provide great advantages to Mom, too. Breastfeeding causes the body to release a hormone called oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its normal size. In addition, moms who breast-feed have a lower risk of hormone-related breast and reproductive cancers and, later in life, osteoporosis.

I tried breast-feeding with one of my older kids, and it didn’t work. Many factors come into play for successful breastfeeding. Two of the most important are education and support, both while you’re in the hospital for your delivery and in the weeks after you go home. One of the best ways to ensure you’ll receive the breast-feeding education and support you need is to choose a hospital that has earned the Baby-Friendly Hospital designation from Baby Friendly USA (babyfriendlyusa.org). Baby-Friendly Hospital facilities, including Simi Valley Hospital, go through an exhaustive process to demonstrate they have met a list of breast-feeding criteria based on guidelines from the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Nurses and physicians have participated in hours of training that prepare them to make breast-feeding the most positive experience possible for Mom, Dad and baby.

This experience begins during the “golden hour” immediately after birth, when Mom and Dad have one-on-one time with their newborn. Skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby is critical during this period: It eases the transition from the womb to the “outside world”; reduces the need for medical intervention; helps the newborn regulate heartbeat, breathing and temperature; and increases the chances of success for the baby’s first attempts at breast-feeding.

The training and support continue after the mother moves to a postpartum room, with lactation consultants who help to make sure the breast-feeding process is going well and that mother and baby are comfortable and confident with breast-feeding.

Most hospitals offer ongoing support after mother and baby go home, such as the free weekly Breastfeeding Café at Simi Valley Hospital, where new moms can socialize with their peers and learn from lactation professionals.

If you’re a mom-to-be and have questions or concerns about breast-feeding, reach out to your OB or the hospital where you’re planning to deliver. Support is there for you.

Laura Ho, R.N., has been a labor and delivery nurse and a pediatric nurse in Simi Valley Hospital’s Women’s Unit for 23 years.