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Workshop for Moms: Breastfeeding

Workshop for Moms: Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is natural, but not necessarily easy. Breastfeeding can be magical and stressful, rewarding, and frustrating, but worth the effort. And the benefits last well beyond the first weeks of baby’s life and are far more important for mom’s overall health. Lactation consultants are gathering abundant information and data on the benefits of breastfeeding that span far beyond bonding and nutrition, as important as both of those factors are. 

“One of the magical things of breastfeeding that I love to hear and talk about is how breastmilk changes the epigenome,” said Cristina Glick, MD, leader of Mississippi Lactation Services in Jackson. “The epigenome is the malleable part of our genetic makeup, where good and bad genes are turned on and off. Breastmilk is a particularly powerful factor in that process. There is evolving data that this has a lifelong positive effect on many health factors, even including reduction of heart attack and stroke through genetic changes manifested by ingestion of breastmilk.” 

Biological benefits aside, moms are likely to have concerns about their breastfeeding journey and can find licensed counselors listed at breastfeedingusa.org for more information and resources. For this issue, Parents & Kids Mississippi asked Dr. Glick some common questions and concerns. 

Q: What causes supply issues for moms, whether it’s over production of milk or reduced amounts of milk at any time?

A: The foundation of breastfeeding is built in the first month and depends on regular emptying of the breasts through either direct breastfeeding or pumping. The initial milk that is formed following birth is called colostrum and is full of proteins, antibodies, and other immunologically important factors. There is a relatively small volume (a few teaspoons a day), far less than if a baby is given a bottle during those first days of life.  Using larger volumes for bottle feedings tells the baby to expect a full tummy, making satisfaction with breastfeeding more difficult. In addition, formula stretches the time between feedings so formula fed babies eat much less than breastfed babies, a fact that can further interfere with establishing a normal supply. If the baby is not directly breastfeeding frequently in those first days, the onset of the transition from colostrum to milk is delayed, causing greater weight loss and frustration for the baby at the breast.  

The best and most reliable way to establish a normal supply is to directly breastfeed the baby as often as she desires, often between 10-15 times a day. As the baby matures and grows, this frequency gradually decreases. The mother’s body is designed to make just enough milk for the baby in the first month and doesn’t increase the production enough (unless there’s an oversupply) to both feed the baby and pump and save milk until after the first month’s growth spurt. We usually recommend waiting on pumping until the milk matures and the volume increases to allow for breastfeeding with some extra to pump and save.  

Q: What are the benefits of breastfeeding related to weight loss for mom and weight gain for infant?

A: People often talk about losing their baby weight through breastfeeding, but it is not recommended to diet while initiating breastfeeding. The mother’s body is required to produce hundreds of calories for the milk per day and rapid weight loss can cause undue stress on the recovering mother’s body. Some people do lose all the baby weight during breastfeeding, but many hold on to a few pounds until they get through the initial several months of breastfeeding.

Q: How can a mom successfully help infant go from breast to bottle? That’s a common concern when babies don’t want to take the bottle as they grow.

A: We certainly do teach babies how to eat. They imprint quickly in the first couple weeks on how to eat, whether from the breast or the bottle, and changing can be stressful for mother and baby. I recommend doing occasional pumping after the month growth spurt and using the bottle a few times a week before the baby reaches 3 months of age. I see bottle refusal frequently when the bottle is not introduced and used regularly in the first couple of months.  

Q: For moms struggling to maintain their supply, where can they get supplements and resources?

A: There are many herbal supplements and methods to increase your supply, but it really comes down to supply and demand. That first month is so important to establish a normal supply and playing catch up in the ensuing months is much less effective than exclusive breastfeeding in the first month. There is lots of information online, but that is a mixed bag with some really good helpful information and some that is not so accurate. (La Leche League International, www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/, has information on Galactagogues that are considered to increase milk supply when non-medical interventions do not help.)

Q: How can moms prevent and/or find relief for clogged ducts and mastitis?

A: Mastitis and clogged ducts are more common in women with an oversupply issue. Getting the supply closer to normal through reduced pumping can help. This needs to be a slow and careful process, but rapidly weaning is never a good idea with breastfeeding. I recommend shortening pumping sessions by a few minutes gradually over a couple days, and then eventually stopping that pumping session, adjusting intervals between remaining sessions. It is very important to be as regular as possible in emptying the breast, whether pumping or breastfeeding, and not allowing significant engorgement for any extended period. Our bodies can give us lots of information if we listen carefully and respond in a timely manner.  

That is not to say all mastitis is a result of an oversupply or engorgement; it can also come seemingly out of the blue. Not all mastitis needs to be treated with antibiotics and often can be conservatively managed with warm packs, massage, and frequent breast emptying. Often the baby can do the best job, if she is willing to help!

Terricha Phillips loves Jesus and good books, being a mom of two sweet children and home cooking with her husband James. Living in Jackson for 10 years left an indelible impression on her life, because it is where she matured into motherhood.

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