Autumn Bishop, LMH Health
August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, a time to promote the importance of breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization both recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for their first six months.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 83% of infants in the United States receive breast milk at birth. At six months of age, only 25% of infants are exclusively breastfed.
Lynley Holman, a physician with Lawrence OB-GYN Specialists, said that breastfeeding provides a number of benefits to the baby and mother.
“Breastfed infants receive antibodies that protect them from some bacteria and viruses,” Dr. Holman said. “Infants who are breastfed for at least six months have fewer ear infections, respiratory infections, bouts of diarrhea and trips to the doctor. They also tend to develop fewer allergies and have lower rates of SIDS.
“In the short term, benefits to the mother include reduced rates of postpartum blood loss and faster return to pre-pregnancy weight. Long term, women benefit from reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer, hypertension and type 2 diabetes.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life but can continue as long as the mother and infant desire.
“As a healthcare team, we will support each woman’s informed decision about whether to feed her infant exclusively through breast milk, mixed feeding or formula,” said Dr. Holman.
Are there reasons that a mother shouldn’t breastfeed?
Dr. Holman shared that there are some reasons that breastfeeding may not be the best choice for a new mother. Women who take certain (rare) medications, infections and those undergoing imaging with radiopharmaceuticals may want to avoid breastfeeding.
“If a mother is using illicit street drugs, such as PCP or cocaine, they should not breastfeed,” she said. “And while it’s commonly believed that women in registered treatment programs for opioid dependence should not nurse, that’s not true. They should be encouraged to breastfeed.”
Melissa Hoffman, DNP, provides psychiatric mental health services for patients at Lawrence OB-GYN Specialists. She says there are many psychiatric medications that are compatible with breastfeeding and women should speak with their healthcare provider.
“For people who manage a chronic mental health condition with medication, discussion about the use of psychiatric medications in pregnancy and lactation can ideally occur before conception,” Hoffman said. “There are several variables that must be considered, so consulting with a psychiatric provider with experience and knowledge about treating women in their childbearing years can be very useful.”
How does LMH Health encourage breastfeeding?
From the time that your baby is born, LMH Health encourages new parents to bond with their little ones. Jody Keltner, registered nurse, says that all babies are placed skin to skin with their parent for the first hour following birth.
“It’s so important for both the parent and baby,” Keltner said. “It helps infants adjust to life outside the womb and helps regulate their breathing, heart rate, temperature and aids with bonding.”
When it’s time for infants to have their first feeding, LMH Health is here to help. All of the nurses on the mother/baby unit are trained to assist with breastfeeding and the hospital has six board-certified lactation consultants on staff. The consultants see the families each day they’re in the hospital and provide free lactation support for two weeks.
“LMH Health is on the pathway to becoming a Baby Friendly hospital,” said Keltner. “Becoming a Baby Friendly hospital means that we’re providing families evidence-based information about feeding their infant and giving them the confidence and skills necessary to initiate and continue breastfeeding after discharge.”
Any parent can participate in either the New Parent and Breastfeeding Support Group or Build Your Village. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both groups have taken their meetings online. Visit lmh.org/events for more information about the New Parent and Breastfeeding Support Group. Learn more about Build Your Village here.
I need support in my breastfeeding and parenting journey. Who can I reach out to?
As anyone who has ever had a new baby will tell you, support is a vital part of any parenting journey. There are a number of resources and groups available to all new parents in the Lawrence area, not just mothers.
“The New Parent and Breastfeeding Support Group at LMH Health was like a warm hug and just what I needed after my baby was born,” said Christin Bowman. “Those first few days after leaving the hospital are so vulnerable and raw. Attending this group helped me see the forest for the trees.”
Kara Rodriguez attended the group following the birth of her daughter in 2017 and returned after she had her son three years later.
“As a second-time parent, I didn’t realize how much I would forget when it came to breastfeeding,” she said. “At my first meeting of the second go-round, I was fumbling with my newborn and heard a familiar, ‘Hi! How are you?’ from a fellow mom. A total stranger simply welcoming me back as if we had been friends for ages. I remember relaxing my hunched shoulders and thinking, ‘Yes, this. This is why I come here.’”
Another venue available to parents is the Build Your Village group. Hoffman started the peer support group to allow people to share their experience in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
“One in five childbearing people will experience depression or anxiety in pregnancy or the first year following birth. I started Build Your Village to provide pregnant and parenting folks with a safe place to learn and talk about mental health during pregnancy and the postpartum period,” she said.
“It’s important to mention the intersection of mental health and infant feeding. Breastfeeding provides mother and child many positive mental health benefits. Additionally, research indicates a connection between mental health complications and breastfeeding challenges.”
Dr. Holman shared that one of her favorite quotes is “Just because breastfeeding is natural, doesn’t mean it’s easy.”
“It’s not about how smart you are or how good a mother you are,” she said. “It doesn’t measure you as a woman. It’s a skill that you and your infant master together with the help of experienced nurses, lactation consultants and healthcare providers, as well as your family for support and encouragement.”
Autumn Bishop is marketing communications manager for LMH Health.