By Tamera Manzanares
We know breastfeeding helps babies and moms, but some benefits may be surprising. This natural process, for example, is a stepping stone to obesity prevention. Breastfeeding is an “on demand” process dictated by a baby’s hunger and fullness cues; you cannot overfeed a breastfeeding baby. This encourages natural appetite regulation and long term weight control. This, in addition to disease-preventing and mother-baby bonding benefits, is why major medical organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Mothers are encouraged to continue breastfeeding with complementary foods, for up to two years or more.
Every woman and baby are different. Establishing a breastfeeding routine requires practice, adjustments and, often, determination. Baby behavior, medical conditions, medications, milk supply, work and travel can require thought and planning, especially if a mother wants to breastfeed exclusively. Support is very important in helping a woman breastfeed confidently and successfully, explained Arin Diagneau, director of Women, Infants and Children (WIC) at Northwest Colorado Health. “Breastfeeding is a changing process,” she said. “We need to be there to help moms and babies figure it out in the beginning and work through challenges that may arise.”
Programs such as WIC and lactation clinics through hospitals provide breastfeeding education, encouragement and advice. Women who qualify for WIC also receive nutrition counseling and checks to purchase healthy foods. Moms who want to breastfeed exclusively must be ready to breast feed whenever and wherever their babies are hungry. Family and community support helps them feel comfortable doing this in public and further reduces stigma. The Colorado Workplace Accommodations Act requires employers provide women reasonable time and a private place to express milk. WIC counselors will work employers to help them comply with these requirements and see possible benefits such as lower turnover, higher employee productivity and lower healthcare costs.
Thanks to community and healthcare support, more women are breastfeeding and breastfeeding longer. In Colorado, the percentage of babies breast fed increased from 81 percent in 2011 to nearly 89 percent in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast milk contains cells, hormones and antibodies that help protect babies from illness. Research suggests breast fed babies have lower risks of asthma, childhood leukemia, ear infections, eczema, digestive problems, sudden infant death syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Hormones released during breastfeeding give moms an important sense of emotional fulfillment. They also tend to recover from childbirth quicker, and research suggests they have lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancers. These benefits are dose-related – the more a mom breastfeeds, the more it benefits her and her baby.
“We try to keep them breastfeeding as long as possible,” said Diagneau, who recommends moms breast feed for at least one year. Breastfeeding also nurtures an important bond between mom and baby that supports healthy family relationships. “Breastfeeding is really the start of a mom-baby relationship that lasts a lifetime,” Daigneau said.
Northwest Colorado Health provides free breastfeeding counseling and support through WIC and other public health programs. Qualifications may apply. For more information, call 970-871-7677.
Yampa Valley Medical Center offers free lactation consults 8 a.m. to noon Wednesdays. Call 970-875-2662 to make an appointment. The hospital also offers a free eight-week breastfeeding class. Call 970-871-2412 for more information. The Memorial Hospital offers free lactation consults by appointment. Call Jennifer Hergenreter or Olivia Cordova in the OB department at 970-826-3270 to make an appointment.