Medical Moment: The benefits of breastfeeding

baby lying on white fur with brown blanket

August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, so it is a perfect time to look at the benefits of breastfeeding for babies and their mothers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, then continuing to breastfeed while introducing complementary foods for two years and beyond, as mutually desired by mother and child.

At Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital, new mothers are visited by a lactation consultant, a nurse specializing in helping mothers and babies with breastfeeding.

“Our role is to educate mothers,” said registered nurse and lactation consultant Mary Anne Marshall. “Our job is to support that mother’s decision whether to breastfeed, use formula, or a combination of the two.”

Jennifer Hall is also a registered nurse and lactation consultant at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital. “We do talk about the benefits of breastfeeding with our mothers; there are things breast milk provides that formula doesn’t,” said Hall.

Some of those benefits include:

  1. Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most babies. As the baby grows, the mother’s breast milk will change to meet the baby’s nutritional needs.
  2. Breastfeeding can help protect babies against short- and long-term illnesses and diseases. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of developing obesity, type 1 diabetes, and certain cancers in childhood. Breastfed babies are also less likely to have ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and stomach bugs. Breastfed babies are also less likely to have sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  3. Breast milk shares antibodies from the mother with her baby.  “Babies are born with immature immune systems; therefore, breastfed babies receive anti-body protections through their mother’s breast milk,” said Marshall.
  4. Mothers can breastfeed anytime and anywhere. Mothers can feed their babies on the go without worrying about safely mixing formula or preparing bottles. When traveling, breastfeeding can also comfort babies whose routine is disrupted.

There are benefits to the mother as well. “It can help new mothers get their bodies back to a pre-pregnancy state. It can also help decrease the risk of certain types of cancers and even osteoporosis later in life,” said Hall.

Breastfeeding can also provide crucial bonding time between baby and mother. “We encourage all our moms to use skin-to-skin contact by placing baby on mom’s bare chest. This can be done with dads and siblings as well. Even if a mother chooses not to breastfeed, that skin-to-skin contact is still important,” said Hall. Skin-to-skin contact can help calm newborns, regulate their temperature and blood pressure, help to stabilize infant blood sugar levels, and further stimulate hormone production to increase milk supply.

But breastfeeding may not come easy to every mother and baby. “I tell new mothers to be patient. They often expect instinct to kick in, and that baby will immediately latch on, and everything will be great, but that isn’t always the case. It can take some time for both mother and baby to get the process down,” said Marshall.

Both Marshall and Hall recognize that breastfeeding can be challenging for some mothers. Through gentle guidance and support throughout their patients’ hospital stay, they assist mothers with problems ranging from latch difficulties and concerns about inadequate milk supply to the challenges of returning to work and pumping to maintain their supply.  “Our goal is to empower mothers to feel confident in their feeding choice and ability,” said Marshall. 

Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital offers prenatal classes and tours to help expecting mothers become familiar with their facility and the labor and delivery process before the baby arrives. The Prepared Childbirth Class focuses on what to expect emotionally and physically during labor and delivery. They also offer free, in-person breastfeeding classes, infant CPR classes and Childbirth Center tours. To sign up for a class or tour, visit houstonmethodist.org/patient-classes and search for “Baytown” in the keyword field. For more information, please call the OB nurse navigator at 346-292-2166.

Houston Methodist Baytown is also designated as a donor milk depot supporting the Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin, a North America’s Human Milk Banking Association member. Premature babies or those with certain medical conditions are often prescribed donor human milk. For mothers interested in donating breastmilk to Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin, we serve as a drop-off site. For additional donation information, please visit milkbank.org.

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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