September 03, 2010
By Deborah McBain, RN, Henry Ford Health System
Mothers and moms-to-be may debate the pros and cons of cloth versus disposable, but one choice there’s no debate about: whether mother’s milk or formula is the best for babies.The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be fed only mother’s milk for the first six months and that they be breastfed for at least a year.Breastfeeding is beneficial in many ways. It:• provides children with the best nutrition. Breast milk is easier for babies to digest, and it’s easier for the babies to absorb the calcium and iron.• provides natural protection against illness, like ear aches, stomach aches and upper respiratory viruses. Breastfeeding also decreases a child’s risk of bacterial meningitis and urinary infections.• lowers a baby’s risk to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and of developing chronic illnesses, like diabetes and Crohn’s disease.• improves a baby’s brain development.• decreases the incidence of obesity. Along with the health benefits, breastfeeding helps babies develop a sense of security and promotes the bonding between mother and child.There are also benefits to the mother:• They have less risk of developing breast cancer at an early age and a reduced risk of ovarian cancer.• Breast milk is economical.• Breastfeeding your baby helps to shrink the uterus back to its normal size and lessens bleeding after delivery.• It helps them return to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly. Babies will want to be fed about every two to three hours, and will eat eight to 12 times within a 24-hour period. Tell the pediatrician if the baby’s stool is hard and dry, as that may indicate he or she isn’t getting enough milk.Women who are breastfeeding should limit their caffeine intake and avoid alcohol and smoking.Some medications may be taken, but should be discussed with the mother’s health care provider.Nursing mothers who take medications should do so immediately after nursing to lessen the amount that is in the breast milk at the next feeding.Sometimes the mother’s breasts will swell and be uncomfortable. Letting the baby empty the breasts will help.Sore nipples are also a common complaint.Changing the baby’s position at each feeding may help, along with allowing the nipples to air dry following each feeding.Because soap is drying, use only water to wash nipples. If the soreness persists more than a few days, talk to your health care provider.Sometimes a milk duct will clog. If this happens, a portion of the breast will feel hard. Let the baby nurse long enough to empty the breast, and massage the area as he or she is nursing.Symptoms that resemble the flu, combined with a red area on the breast, may indicate an infection in the breast tissue.This infection can be passed on to the baby, but the mother should contact her health care provider, who may prescribe antibiotics. It is not necessary to discontinue nursing.It is possible to continue to breastfeed even after returning to work or school. Many women choose to pump milk from their breasts so it can be fed to the baby when they’re not home.Pumped (or expressed) breast milk can be stored in a refrigerator for eight days.Cold breast milk can be safely stored in the refrigerator’s freezer for two weeks or for three months in a frost-free freezer.If pumping at work, place the container with the milk in a cooler with a freezer pack.When warming the milk, do not heat it in the microwave or on the stove. Instead, thaw in the refrigerator overnight then place the container in a cup of warm water for a few minutes. Throw away whatever milk the baby doesn’t finish.It may take some time for the baby to become accustomed to using a bottle.Try it when he or she first wakes up by placing it gently on the bottom lip. If the baby won’t take it wait for another feeding and try again. Do not try to force him or her to take the bottle.When it comes time to wean the baby from breast milk, that should be done slowly as well. Replace one feeding with formula, baby food or cow’s milk, depending on the child’s age and the pediatrician’s advice, and then wait a few days before doing it again. It may take a few weeks for the breast milk to dry up.
Deborah McBain, R.N., is a certified nurse midwife at the Henry Ford Medical Center-Fairlane in Dearborn.