Breastfeeding: The benefits and challenges

Experts share information about getting started, what to expect, and offer a few tips to make it a successful effort

While breastfeeding  a newborn can be one of the most gratifying and healthy experiences a mother can share with her newborn — offering a number of benefits for both mom and baby — it can also be as challenging as it is rewarding. Parenting NH reached out to three lactation experts who tell us about getting started, what to expect, and to offer a few tips to make it a successful effort.

Our experts:

  • Brenna Stapp, D.O., Manchester OBGYN Associates, com
  • Janet Perkins, M.D., Garrison Women’s Health, com
  • Mary Shupe, MPH, APRN, CPNP and Cathy Leighton, APRN, CPNP, River Road Pediatrics, com.

Brenna Stapp, D.O., Manchester OBGYN Associates

What are the benefits of breastfeeding?

Stapp: “So many! Before I go further — I always point out that the one thing every parent has to do is feed the baby. That can be strictly breast, strictly bottle, or any combination in between. However, for those women that are considering breastfeeding, there are many benefits for mother and baby to consider. For babies — breastfeeding provides maternal antibodies that help protect the baby until his or her immune system starts to develop (around six months). This can lower the rates of ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory illness and allergies. Any amount of breastfeeding has been shown to decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as well as juvenile diabetes. Breast milk has the right balance of nutrients a baby needs at birth and adapts that content as the baby gets older. A mother’s body is truly amazing. Moms benefit as well by a metabolic booster — we burn an extra 500 calories a day by breast feeding. It lowers the risk of hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. It also lowers the lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer.”

What breast-feeding related rights do I have in the workplace?

Stapp: “Knowing your rights and having plans in place before you come back from maternity leave starts you and your employer on a good path for successful breastfeeding. Here are the legal protections in place in New Hampshire:

  • As of 1999, breastfeeding in public is not considered indecent exposure — in fact, it is a protected legal right.
  • Since 2010, under the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employers are required to provide breastfeeding mothers time and a place (other than a bathroom) to express breast milk for the first year of the baby’s life.
  • If a workplace has fewer than 50 employees, they may be exempt from this law. If your workplace has fewer than 50 people, having a conversation with your employer about your breastfeeding goals before you return from leave will hopefully reach a mutually reasonable plan.

As a mother of two that breastfed, I recognize and commend the time, effort and troubleshooting this can involve. Your OB care provider is a great resource for more information, support and encouragement — we wish you the best of luck, regardless of how you feed your baby!”

Janet Perkins, M.D., Garrison Women’s Health

What is your advice to mothers with babies who are teething?

Perkins: “Breastfeeding is a wonderful opportunity to bond with your baby, but occasionally it is uncomfortable, especially during the teething phase of your child’s development. It should never cause intense pain, however. When your baby is teething, their gums tend to be swollen and sore so it may seem like they are trying to relieve the pain by clamping down (ouch). If you are experiencing this, it is important to do your best to stop that behavior. Before breastfeeding, consider giving your child a teething toy to help soothe their gums a bit. You can also try to break the baby’s suction by firmly saying, “no.” You don’t want to scare them, but a word or noise could encourage them to loosen their grip. Additionally, by carefully placing a bit of pressure on one of your baby’s nostrils, you should notice some relief. Just be certain that you aren’t blocking the baby’s airway completely.”

What are the best tips to increase milk production?

Perkins: “As mothers, we typically don’t put ourselves first. Taking excellent care of yourself is often the best way to increase milk production. This includes drinking enough water, getting plenty of rest, eating a well-balanced diet, and allocating time each day for movement. Some women take herbal supplements like fenugreek or thistle, or they drink Mother’s Milk Tea or coconut milk to help with milk supply. These items can be found at your local supermarket or online. Before your bundle of joy arrives, consider taking a breastfeeding class or meeting with a lactation consultant for guidance.”

When should I start pumping to build up a supply of milk for returning to work?

Perkins: “This decision is best left to the mother as all circumstances are different. Depending on the length of one’s maternity leave, most women try to breastfeed as long as they can before beginning to pump. It is almost always best to wait until at least two weeks after your baby is born to begin pumping, and ideally four or five weeks. For mothers who are pumping in preparation for their return to work, remember that breast milk lasts 6-12 months in the freezer.”

Mary Shupe, MPH, APRN, CPNP and Cathy Leighton, APRN, CPNP, River Road Pediatrics

What are the signs of a proper latch while nursing?

Leighton: “An infant gets an adequate amount of breast milk by latching on and suckling at the mother’s breast by forming a tight seal around the mother’s nipple and most of her areola with his/her mouth. When an infant is latched correctly, the mother may briefly feel some discomfort for the first 30 to 60 seconds which then decreases. When an infant has properly latched onto the mother’s breast, there is at least a 120-degree opening between the top and bottom lips, the lower lip is turned outward against the breast, the infant’s cheeks appear full, and the tongue extends over the lower lip and remains below the areola during nursing.

“If a mother continues to feel discomfort beyond the first 60 seconds of nursing, the infant may be poorly latched onto the breast.  Some signs of a poor latch include the upper and lower lips touching at the corner of the infant’s mouth while latched, a sunken appearance to the baby’s cheeks, clicking sounds, the infant’s tongue not visible below the mother’s nipple while nursing, or a crease in the mother’s nipple after nursing.  If a mother suspects a poor latch, she should insert her clean finger into the infant’s mouth and gently break the seal to prevent further trauma to her nipple. If you are having difficulty with your infant latching on properly and comfortably, try not to despair and reach out to your clinician or lactation consultant who will often have measures to help.”

What food /drinks should be avoided while breastfeeding?

Shupe: “There are some foods and beverages a breastfeeding mother should consider avoiding while breastfeeding. Alcohol of any type is not recommended. Caffeine also gets into the mother’s milk, so switching to decaffeinated drinks is a better option. Some infants become very gassy and fussy if the mother is eating a lot of gas-producing foods, such as raw vegetables, spicy foods, onions, garlic, etc. One might consider altering her diet to a bland diet to see if baby’s fussiness improves. Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience for both mom and baby, however if challenges arise please don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider.”

Categories: Planning for baby