Like childbirth itself, breastfeeding is natural but sometimes incredibly challenging. For some mothers, it’s a snap: their baby latches on and milk flows easily. For others, only great effort gets mom and baby past the hurdles of latching, milk production, baby’s weight gain and mom’s exhaustion. So what would motivate a mom to invest the effort to breastfeed, and how can the hospital where she delivers offer the best support?
A 2012 study published in Pediatrics showed that, of more than 85 percent of women nationally who wanted to breastfeed their babies exclusively for 3 months, only 32 percent actually reached their breastfeeding goals. In California, nearly 92 percent of women start out breastfeeding their baby while in the hospital, but that drops to 60 percent who are still breastfeeding exclusively in the short time before they go home.
During the first few days of a baby’s life, breastfeeding exclusively helps establish the milk production needed to continue any amount of breastfeeding. Hospitals are in a unique position to provide the support that can help mothers and babies get off to a strong start. The care a mother and baby receive from doctors and nurses can make a big difference. At the same time, when mothers cannot or choose not, for any reason, to breastfeed, the same outstanding maternity care can help them bond with their newborns and support their baby’s best health.
At Packard Children’s, breastfeeding support begins long before the first feeding, with classes that help mom prepare. We also allow time for moms to establish a strong bond with their baby during their first hour after delivery, which can also support breastfeeding success. During this hour, mothers may include in their birth plan their wish to hold their baby skin-to-skin immediately after delivery (also known as “kangaroo care”). When the health of mom and baby allows, postponing the normal protocol of bathing, weighing and testing the baby clears the way for shared skin-to-skin time.
“During this time, babies experience nine instinctive stages: birth cry, relaxation, awakening, activity, resting, crawling—a shifting movement to approach the breast—familiarization, suckling, and sleep,” says Susan Crowe, MD, an obstetrician and director of outpatient breastfeeding medicine services at Packard Children’s and a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “For a mother who desires to breastfeed, supporting skin-to-skin time is one way we can help her reach that goal.”
Depending on each mother’s birth plan and medical needs, skin-to-skin time with baby offers benefits, whether her baby is born vaginally or by cesarean section, whether it happens in the first hour or when mom is medically ready, and whether or not she is breastfeeding. Skin-to-skin time in the first hour helps regulate babies’ temperature, heart rate, and breathing, and helps them cry less. A 2012 study published in Neonatology showed that 95 percent of mothers who spent skin-to-skin time were breastfeeding exclusively 48 hours after delivery, and 90 percent were still breastfeeding exclusively 6 weeks later.
Babies and mothers with special medical needs also benefit from being skin-to-skin when it becomes medically possible. In the meantime (and beyond), mom’s partner can provide skin-to-skin time with baby, which can help keep baby warm, and provide bonding time.
Since it opened its doors in 1991, Packard Children’s continues to provide internationally board-certified lactation consultants whose services are available 365 days a year to support nursing mothers and babies at both Packard Children’s and Stanford hospitals.
When breastfeeding gets off to a good start, all its benefits—for both mother and baby—kick in. Breast milk is often described as “baby’s first immunization,” and with good reason: multiple studies show wide-ranging health benefits to babies from breastfeeding. Mom may also experience benefits, such as less bleeding after delivery, a faster return to pre-pregnancy weight, delayed return of periods after delivery, and approximate savings of $1500 per year compared to the cost of formula.
At Packard Children’s, we strongly endorse breastfeeding as the optimal method of nutrition for newborns. However, there are circumstances under which breastfeeding may not be successfully initiated or maintained. Together, a mother and her physician can give careful consideration to all the issues and her family’s unique needs to make the final decision whether breastfeeding is best for her and her baby.
Our highly trained doctors and nurses help support moms in breastfeeding exclusively until they’re ready to leave the hospital, establishing a strong foundation for the weeks and months to come. At Packard Children’s, we want all of our families to experience the highest quality of maternity care, and to support them in achieving their breastfeeding goals.
Learn more about World Breastfeeding Week.
- Julie Greicius
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