Breastfeeding: Practice ruled as best for babies, but can be daunting without support

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The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, but according to the CDC in Kentucky, only 58 percent of babies are ever breastfed, and only 12 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed at 6 months. Part of the reason that breastfeeding rates are so low is that women often do not grow up seeing other women breastfeed.

“I recommend that moms in their last trimester go to a Le Leche League meeting,” said Ashley Benz, a certified lactation counselor. “They need to watch breastfeeding. It’s a learned skill. They need to know what it looks like.”

“It doesn’t come naturally,” said Marcie Lewis, a Spencer County mom of a 5 year old and a 10 week old. “Because most people don’t nurse, we don’t grow up seeing it.”

According to Benz, the reasons to nurse include: breastmilk is the most complete food, it’s custom made for each mother’s baby, the cost is significantly lower than formula, and several formulas have been recalled recently.

Helm decided to breastfeed her first son because of the health benefits. She knew three other mothers who breastfed their children, which made it easier for her to decide before she was even pregnant that she wanted to breastfeed.

“Your body makes it for babies, so it’s what they should have,” said Helms.

Stephanie Hunt of Elk Creek decided she wanted to breastfeed because of the cost of formula.

“Of course I heard how good it was for the baby, but that (cost) was my drive,” said Hunt, whose baby is now 9 months old.

Hunt’s goal is to nurse for the first year, in part because babies are not supposed to drink cow’s milk until after 12 months. If she stopped breastfeeding before then, her son would need to have costly formula until then.

Helm did not have much experience with breastfeeding before she was pregnant other than knowing her sister and a couple of friends had done it. Most of the people she knew did not breastfeed and she did not see it done when she was growing up. She took Bradley childbirth classes and one of the assignments was to attend a Le Leche League meeting so she could see other women breastfeeding.

Benz, who has a bachelor’s of health sciences, says that having proper support is key to a successful breastfeeding relationship.

“If a mom is facing difficulties, it’s important for her to talk to someone who has credentials, not just someone who has breastfed a child or attempted to breastfeed,” said Benz, adding that someone who breastfed only briefly will not have the experience necessary to help another mother. “Even if it may cost you money to consult with a professional, it will probably cost less than 1 month of formula.”

Helm went to Le Leche meetings, and spoke with lactation consultants when she had latch problems with her sons. She went to The Nursing Station (now Babyology) in Louisville and contacted the lactation consultant at her hospital. Having the support of her family and her husband was just as important to her.

“My husband didn’t say ‘Just give him a bottle,’” said Helm, when it took 3 months to get her first son latched well. “He said ‘You’ll get it.’”

Hunt’s husband is supportive of her breastfeeding also, which was helpful when she had trouble and considered giving up. She had pain in the beginning and was overwhelmed when it felt like all her son wanted to do was nurse. Hunt realized later that even when she said she wanted to quit, she knew she wanted to continue.

“It is hard,” said Hunt. “I thought it was natural and I would just know how to do it.”

Hunt found professional support through the lactation consultants at her pediatrician and obstetrician’s offices.

They would weigh her son before and after a feeding to show her that he was gaining weight and getting nourishment even when he was spitting up.

“Get some sort of support system in place,” said Helm. “I really think that it helps with the outcome. You need someone who can help reassure you.”

Benz recommends that women take a prenatal breastfeeding class, read breastfeeding books, and make sure that their pediatrician is breastfeeding friendly. It’s important to know who to contact if there are difficulties and have the contact information before the baby comes.

“Moms can always call me and ask for help,” said Benz, who is working on a master’s of maternal health and lactation consulting and offers free phone support. “Sometimes consults are recommended. Consults are in their home so they don’t have to go out.”

Once breastfeeding gets established, the rewards tend to outweigh the challenges for many women. According to Benz, even women who know the health benefits of breastfeeding continue it for the bonding.

“Once you get past the challenges, it’s a great way to bond with your baby,” said Benz. “It’s time you’re never going to get back.”

“I would say that it’s an awesome bonding thing,” said Hunt.
Ashley Benz can be reached for free phone consults through her website www.louisvillebreastfeedinghelp.com. For more breastfeeding resources and books, see Deanna’s blog at http://blog.funmama.net.