Breastfeeding: Good for baby, empowering for parents

  • Annemarie Heath CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 7/29/2019 2:52:35 PM

August 1–7 is World Breastfeeding week, a time to celebrate parents and families who have committed to breastfeeding and provide education to new parents and families who are considering their choices about feeding their new babies.

This year, the World Breastfeeding Week theme — empower parents, enable breastfeeding — recognizes that “breastfeeding is a universal solution that levels the playing field, and gives everyone a fair start in life. It improves the health, well-being, and survival of women and children around the world,” according to the International Lactational Consultant Association.

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 parents 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 24 years, I have seen families’ knowledge of breastfeeding grow. They know that breast milk is best for babies, that it provides important antibodies to protect against infection, and that if the baby has only breast milk for the first six months, it decreases the incidence of allergies, respiratory infections, ear infections and bouts of diarrhea.

Parents know that breastfeeding is good for their bodies as well. Breastfeeding releases hormones including prolactin and oxytocin, which help a body recover more quickly from pregnancy, delay the return of the menstrual period and can help the parent lose excess weight that was gained during pregnancy. It decreases the 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 parents who choose to breastfeed? Some hospitals choose to do this through the hard work of becoming designated as a Baby-Friendly Hospital. Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s Childbirth Center earned designation as a Baby-Friendly Hospital in 2018.

The Baby-Friendly Hospital 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 Breastmilk Substitutes. These steps assist us in giving parents 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 parents 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 families can make informed decisions.

A lot of work has been done in the years since the Office of the Surgeon General acknowledged the health benefits of breast milk. Breastfeeding in the U.S. is on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card, among infants born in 2015, 4 out of 5 (83.2 percent) started to breastfeed, over half (57.6 percent) were breastfeeding at 6 months, and over one third (35.9 percent) were breastfeeding at 12 months. Compared to infants born in 2014, rates for infants born a year later increased for breastfeeding at 6 and 12 months.

In Massachusetts, 87.4 percent of infants were ever breastfed, yet across the commonwealth, only 26.6 percent of infants were exclusively breastfed through 6 months, as recommended by pediatricians.

I encourage all parents who 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.

Ways you can support a lactating partner include making sure the person stays hydrated and has a supply of food and drinks within reach, especially if they are actively feeding the baby. Take the baby after feedings so the breastfeeding parent can rest or take a shower; and offer support, praise and encouragement to the partner.

In addition, 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 Dickinson Childbirth Center and holds a Doctorate of Nursing Practice degree from the Yale University School of Nursing. She feels that the role of a midwife is especially important because midwives provide gynecologic and pregnancy care with a gentle, open and individualized approach.

Women’s Health is written by health care professionals affiliated with Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. It appears here monthly.

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