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THE VALUE OF BREASTFEEDING
I love helping moms breastfeed. While breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes it comes easily. Sometimes it can be challenging. I believe that moms don’t get enough support when it is challenging. Moms get advice and information from family and friends, and Facebook groups. They may take their questions and concerns to Google. All the different opinions can make your head spin.
My intent is to present information that is based on evidence, when evidence is available. If there is not scientific evidence, there is best practice. There is also my experience of 23 years, and counting.Check out the About page for my background and credentials. Read on for the first of many topics I will discuss. I hope you will ask questions in the comments sections. I will do my best to provide and answer.
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Please read on!
Value vs Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breast if best. How many times have you heard that? What would you say if I told you that breastfeeding has no benefits? (Did I just hear you gasp in surprise?) Stay with me on this one. When someone talks about something having benefits, they are referencing it to what is the norm. In this case, that reference os usually to formula. However, formula is not the norm.
Breastfeeding is normal. It is what your baby’s body is expecting to receive. Not receiving it is not normal.
Think of some other things that are similar in terms of what is seen as best, or better or risky.
Smoking is risky. We don’t say, “Not smoking has benefits.”
Eating healthy is important. We don’t say, “Not eating fast food has benefits.”
Breathing air is normal. We don’t say, “Breathing air is best.”
Changing how we talk about breastfeeding is the first step in changing how we think about breastfeeding. We need to start thinking of breastfeeding as normal. It’s not simply a choice a mother makes about how to feed her baby. It is so much more than that.
The Best, Not Good or Bad
If breast is best, does that make formula the worst? The reality is that some babies will need formula, for a variety of reasons. For some, there is donor milk, which is a better option than formula. However, even when it is an option, for most parents it is going to be cost prohibitive in the long term. Commercial formula is required to meet certain guidelines for ingredients and safety. It’s not the worst. Not feeding a baby enough food would be the worst. Breastfeeding has enormous value. It makes a difference in a baby’s health, both in the short term and long term. It is worth working for, even when it is hard. That is what this blog post is about.
The Problem with Breastfeeding
In the United States more babies are starting out life being breastfed. While that is encouraging, most babies are not being exclusively breastfed, or breastfed for as long as is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization. There is a lot of speculation about why this is.
Some of the most common reasons given for stopping breastfeeding before a mom intended to or it is recommended include:
- nipple pain
- the belief or concern that they don’t have enough milk
- fatigue and the belief that formula feeding will change that
- difficulty establishing direct breastfeeding (as opposed to breastmilk feeding) and not wanting to pump and bottle feed only, which is a whole blog post in itself
- returning to work can present enormous challenges for some moms in their desire to continue breastfeeding
Clearly, saying to a mom who is struggling with any of these issues, “breast is best”, or “breastfeeding is normal,” is probably not going to be enough to help her through those difficult times or a crisis of confidence. These moms need help. They also need to know why it is important that they try to work through issues that may come up. Issues that make them think , “is this worth it?” or, “Maybe I have done this long enough” or, “it’s just too hard and I’m ready to stop”.
If you are one of those mothers, these are some of the compelling reasons you should do what you need to do to get through those challenging times.
Breastfeeding makes a difference in the health of babies. Some outcomes are short-term, some are life long.
Some people love breastfeeding, some people can take it or leave it, and some people actually hate it. None of those feelings change the difference that breastfeeding has on a baby’s health.
Health Motivation for Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding makes a difference in outcomes of:
Respiratory tract infections and ear infections
Gastrointestinal tract infections
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
And the big ones:
The impact that breastfeeding has on these outcomes has been well studied.Don’t let anyone tell you differently. A difference in the outcomes doesn’t mean these illnesses never happen to a breastfed baby. It means there is a difference in how often these things happen to breastfed babies as compared to formula or mixed-fed babies. It means that formula fed and mixed-fed babies experience these things more often.
Exclusive breastfeeding at the breast is going to result in the best outcomes. It’s also important to know that any breastfeeding or breastmilk is better than none at all. The more, the better. If you are experiencing difficulties that are making you want to stop, the most important thing to do is get help. A lactation consultant is usually the best qualified to provide that help. If you can’t get help soon enough, you can always talk to someone, and take a break and pump so that you continue to support your milk supply. Explaining how to do that takes more than a few words at the end of a blog post.
There are other things that are valuable about breastmilk and breastfeeding. I don’t want to give a long list though. I want to give you the really important ones. These are the ones that can make a difference in motivation to most people.
I am going to make part of this post a separate page titled “Value of Breastfeeding.It will be only the list above. Let your friends know about it. Tell your newly pregnant friends about it. Read it if things get rough, or you just want a reminder.
One Last Thought
The other important thing to remember is that breastfeeding is not an “all or nothing” deal. Any amount of breastmilk is valuable. I learned that no one can, or should tell a mother how much is enough to keep doing it.However, even the most dedicated mother may sometimes have to stop breastfeeding. There may be a medical reason. Or, her breastfeeding difficulties may have taken her to a dark and scary place and her mental health is truly at risk. This sometimes happens. It’s important to get help if you feel that is happening to you.
Breastfeeding is important.
Breastfeeding is normal.
THE VALUE OF BREASTFEEDING
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.