Celebrating World Breastfeeding Week

by Joanna Storey, MD

August 1 through 7 is World Breastfeeding Week this year, an opportunity for communities around the world to celebrate and promote breastfeeding and its benefits for moms and babies. Breast milk truly is nature’s perfect food for babies. Breastfed infants have reduced rates of asthma and allergies, diarrheal illness, eczema and ear infections as well as a lowered risk for developing diabetes, obesity, and leukemia. And breastfeeding protects against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in early life. It is hard to overstate its potential for positive impact on infant health.

At Children’s Medical Group we welcome expectant parents to schedule a prenatal visit so that we can get to know each other and discuss any concerns that have arisen while planning for the baby’s arrival. For me, infant feeding decisions are often part of this conversation, and it is nice to have the opportunity to champion breastfeeding. At the same time, I think it’s important to acknowledge how challenging breastfeeding can be, especially in the first few weeks of a baby’s life. Nursing can seem like something which should come so naturally, yet I tell expectant parents that about 90% of first-time nursing mothers in my practice experience some initial challenges. Issues such as low milk supply, latching problems, engorgement, mastitis and nipple confusion can hit a new mom at a time when she’s feeling exhausted and still recovering from delivery. And some newborns seem to struggle more than others to master nursing. A case in point: my youngest son. By the time he was born, I had already nursed his three older brothers (two of whom were a set of twins). So I thought of myself as an old pro. But baby number four refused to latch. Despite my best efforts, all he seemed to want was a bottle.

The good news is that almost all nursing difficulties can be overcome with a combination of persistence and guidance. Pediatricians, hospital lactation nurses and specialty breastfeeding medicine practices are all available to provide guidance for the post-partum mother. And sometimes a measure of compromise is involved. For my son, I ended up pumping and bottle feeding my breast milk. This wasn’t the nursing experience I originally wanted, but at the end of the day I knew that the most important thing was for him to get the health benefits of mother’s milk.