Mothers know that when it comes to feeding their babies, breast milk is good for their child in many ways. But breastfeeding isn't always easy--many new mothers face difficulties with milk production, latching and other issues that can lead to frustration or giving up on the process entirely.That's why National Breastfeeding Month, observed each August, not only promotes the health benefits of breastfeeding, but also encourages women to seek out help and support if they are struggling.
"There are so many wonderful things about breastfeeding--it's free, it's a terrific nutritional source for babies that's healthy for both mother and child, and it's a time of bonding. So it can be heartbreaking for new moms who are having problems breastfeeding, especially if they feel they don't have a place to turn to for resources and information," says Maureen Villasenor, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group and a mother of three. "That's why St. Joseph Health offers programs through its various ministry hospitals to help families have a successful breastfeeding experience."
Before the baby arrives, expectant moms should look into the breastfeeding services offered at the hospital where they choose to give birth. Many facilities, such as Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital offer breastfeeding classes as part of an education series for pregnant women, so they feel prepared for when the baby is born. For moms who can't make it to class in person, online breastfeeding prep courses are available, such as the one at St. Jude Medical Center.
Moms-to-be may also want to purchase supplies, such as nursing bras or breast pumps, before the birth. "See if the hospital has a store carrying those items, such as the Stork Stop Boutique run by St. Joseph Hospital, Orange," Dr. Villasenor says. "Women should also check their health plans, as the Affordable Care Act calls for insurance coverage for breastfeeding equipment, as well as any support needed after the baby is born."
Post-delivery, the hospital should also offer breastfeeding assistance. "This is an ideal time for mothers to have questions answered and for a lactation specialist to assess latch and nursing positions, and make any corrections, if necessary," Dr. Villasenor says. "Many of St. Joseph's ministries are Baby-Friendly Hospitals, and others are working toward that designation. This certification means that the hospital is committed to optimal breastfeeding support. That includes having a written policy on breastfeeding and ensuring all staff members are trained according to its guidelines, helping mothers breastfeed within an hour of giving birth, and allowing mothers and babies to share a recovery room so breastfeeding can take place at any time."
Mom isn't on her own once she and the baby come home from the hospital. "Women should know how to track their baby's feedings to make sure the newborn is getting enough breast milk," Dr. Villasenor says. "They can get this information from their doctor or hospital nursing staff, as well as a log to keep track of feedings. Generally, infants should nurse eight to 12 times per day, for as long as needed at each breast. Physical signs that babies are eating enough include the number of wet diapers they go through each day (one for each day of life, when nutrition comes from the mother's colostrum, then six to eight once the mother's breast milk comes in), good skin color and alertness. Babies should also be gaining weight, up to 7 ounces per week, which can be checked during pediatrician visits."
If their infant isn't meeting those benchmarks, or women are having problems such as sore nipples or inadequate milk production, they shouldn't hesitate to get help. Some St. Joseph Health ministry hospitals offer personalized breastfeeding assistance. For instance, breast pump demonstrations and breastfeeding support groups facilitated by a lactation consultant are offered by Queen of the Valley Medical Center. And at the Childbirth Center at Redwood Memorial Hospital, lactation help is just a phone call away. Moms can call the Breastfeeding Care Line with any questions, and their call will be answered within 24 hours by one of the center's lactation consultants.
"There are so many avenues of support out there that women who choose to breast feed their baby should be confident that they can get the help they need," Dr. Villasenor says. "It may require working through some issues, but it's well worth it in the end--for both the mother and the child."
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.