#808moms: Breastfeeding offers big benefits to mom and baby

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The author’s daughter, Abby, being fed expressed milk by relatives. Breast milk has lifelong benefits for kids, research has shown.

Breastfeeding helped me lose 30 pounds. Isn’t that a great reason to give it a try? Many women struggle to lose the weight they put on during pregnancy, but research has shown breastfeeding can help moms shed those baby pounds.

That’s not to say breastfeeding is easy. I literally had to let my daughter Abby try to latch on every few hours for the first two weeks of her life. It was painful and I was frustrated.

To be honest, I had a bit of the “baby blues” or postpartum depression. I couldn’t stop crying while holding my newborn as I tried my best to make her latch. From what the nurses told me, it’s actually fairly common to have adjustment issues. Abby’s pediatrician said we were a “mismatch” — having a big mama with such a little newborn. She wasn’t opening her mouth wide enough to latch well, which left me in pain and her not getting any milk.

Abby was a healthy but petite 6 pounds, 4 ounces at birth. After unsuccessfully trying to breastfeed for the first day or so in the hospital her weight went down to 5 pounds, which freaked me out. Her pediatrician told me I could choose to keep trying or temporarily give her formula. But he stressed: Don’t give up on breastfeeding. He also said to keep using the hospital breast pump often to get a good supply going.

Even though I had a rocky start, I still wanted that awesome mother-baby bonding experience. So I rented a hospital breast pump and visited Mother’s Milk (a lactation support group at Kapiolani Medical Center). In two weeks, Abby finally latched on and fed like a champ.

What expectant moms might not realize is that breastfeeding can take a lot of practice before the process is second nature.

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The author’s daughter, Abby, as an infant. Breastfeeding isn’t always easy, and takes practice and patience.

Once you get a routine, though, things become easier. And you start noticing your weight loss. At a follow-up visit with my doctor, I pointed to my chunky thighs and said, “Does that ugly fat on my body make those cute Michelin-man fatty rolls on my daughter?” He laughed and said, “Pretty much. You don’t need it anymore and she does. It’s a perfect system.”

I give credit to moms who feed through breast pumping alone. It’s a lot of hard work, with the bottle cleaning and sterilizing, and being a slave to a breast pump every few hours for 15 minutes or so at a time can be tiring.

It’s important for moms to be proud of whatever amount of breast milk they can give their newborns.

I know of one friend who pumped for four years as she had four children in a row and wanted them to all have breast milk but couldn’t seem to breastfeed. I also know of a few moms who just can’t breastfeed because of medical reasons or can breastfeed but have a low supply and have to supplement a lot with formula.

What the experts say

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), babies should be fed breast milk exclusively for about the first six months of life, if possible. Unless medically necessary, your baby doesn’t need additional foods or fluids. AAP also recommends continuing to breastfeed for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mother and baby desire. Solid foods are recommended around six months of age and your child’s pediatrician should help you figure out when and how to introduce solid foods.

That recommendation comes with good research behind it. But for me it was tough because people around me were insisting that I start Abby on cereal and other foods like poi at three or four months of age, before my baby was really ready for it. I still remember her first foods and all the crying and pushing the food back out. It does take a while to learn to eat solids and some babies are not as ready as others.

I personally breastfed at least once a day until Abby was 18 months. I really just stopped because my supply was low and it had become painful.

Breastfed newborns typically feed 8-12 times per 24 hours. Abby’s pediatrician had me wake her up every 3 to 4 hours as she would try to sleep in longer increments of 4 to 6 hours. I know I was really lucky; I had a great newborn who loved her sleep!

The perks of breastfeeding  

Why breastfeed? Here are some of the benefits, according to the AAP:

• Decreases the possibility of your baby getting infectious diseases

• Returns mothers to their pre-pregnancy weight faster. Yes!

• Reduces a mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer

• Mothers who breastfeed have less postpartum bleeding

• Facilitates bonding. Fathers and siblings can help mom with burping and rocking the baby, making sure mom is eating and drinking enough, and helping with breast pump equipment and bottles

• It’s green for the community! It saves water, doesn’t use energy for manufacturing or pollute the environment with garbage or air pollution.

• You don’t have to worry about contamination from bacteria or other substances

• It’s fresh, the right temperature, and ready to feed

• Breastfed babies have a lower risk of being obese children

• It saves money

Talk to your baby’s pediatrician, and/or your doctor, midwife, or a lactation consultant to know if breastfeeding is the right choice for you and to help with any difficulties that may come your way if you do choose to breastfeed.

For information on breastfeeding benefits for HMSA members, head here: www.hmsa.com/KB00232.

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