July 21, 2017

Breastfeeding: Good for Baby, Good for Mom

July 21, 2017

The first week of August is World Breastfeeding week, a time to celebrate moms and families who have committed to breastfeeding and provide education to new moms and families who are considering their choices about feeding their new babies.

Mother with nursing baby at breastfeeding support group, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, 30 Locust Street, Northampton, MA 01060.This year, the theme is to reflect on the successes since the Surgeon General’s call to action in 2011 to mobilize families, communities, clinicians, health care providers and employers to improve support for breastfeeding. Healthy People 2020, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that “provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans,” has set four breastfeeding goals:
• Increase the proportion of infants who are breastfed
• Increase the number of employers that have worksite lactation support programs
• Increase the number of births that provide recommended care for lactating mothers and their babies
• Reduce the proportion of babies who receive formula in the first two days of life

As a resident of the Pioneer Valley, and a nurse midwife for over 20 years, I have seen women’s knowledge of breastfeeding grow. They know that breastmilk is best for their babies, that it provides important antibodies to protect against infection, and that if the baby has only breastmilk for the first 6 months, it decreases the incidence of allergies, respiratory infections, ear infections, and bouts of diarrhea.

Moms know that breastfeeding is good for their bodies as well. Breastfeeding releases hormones including prolactin and oxytocin, which help a woman’s body recover more quickly from pregnancy, delay the return of her menstrual period and can help her lose excess weight that was gained during pregnancy. It decreases a woman’s risk of ovarian and breast cancer, and some studies have found that it may also reduce the risk of developing other health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

How do we, as health care professionals, support women who choose to breastfeed? Some hospitals choose to do this through the hard work of becoming designated as a Baby Friendly Hospital.  The Baby Friendly Initiative is a global program launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), to recognize and encourage hospitals and birthing centers to implement best practices to support optimal care for infant feeding and mother/baby bonding.

The Baby Friendly Initiative has compiled evidence-based practices to provide guidance to health care institutions. These include the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and the International Code of Marketing Breast-milk substitutions.

These steps assist us in giving women and families the support they need to be successful at breastfeeding or in feeding formula safely. It includes guidelines like early skin-to-skin cuddling right after birth, rooming in, and how to keep breastfeeding even if your baby is sick. The initiative also guides us through how to discuss with moms the best ways to formula feed safely.

Most importantly, it helps health care professionals give complete and consistent information about breast and formula feeding so that moms and families can make an informed decision.

A lot of work has been done in the six years since the Surgeon General acknowledged the health benefits of breastmilk. Breastfeeding in the U.S. is on the rise. The latest statistics suggest that 81% of women report ever having breastfed and 51.8% are still breastfeeding at 6 months. In Massachusetts, we have already met our 2020 goal of 87.6% of moms having ever breastfed. While we are better than the national average, we still have work to do. Only 19.9% are exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months as recommended by pediatricians. (The Healthy People 2020 goal is 25.5%).

I encourage all moms that are breastfeeding or considering breastfeeding their babies to talk to their doctors, midwives, nurses or lactation consultants and tell us how we can support you. You can call the lactation consultants at Cooley Dickinson Hospital at 413-582-2096 with questions, or if you would like to have a drop-in visit for some tips or troubleshooting.

Annemarie Heath, CNM, MSN, is a Certified Nurse Midwife at Cooley Dickinson Women’s Health and at the Cooley DickinsonAnnemarie Heath, CNM, MSN, at Women's Health, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Northampton, MA 01060. Childbirth Center, and holds Doctorate of Nursing Practice degree from the Yale University School of Nursing. She sees her role as a midwife as not only important because of its primary function, but also because midwives can be a point of access to healthcare for women who often would not otherwise seek it out. In addition to her role as a midwife, Annie is co-medical director of Women’s Health and director of clinical team advancement.