Memorial Regional Health: Why breastfeeding is beneficial to your baby’s health — MRH offers classes for expectant mothers |

Memorial Regional Health: Why breastfeeding is beneficial to your baby’s health — MRH offers classes for expectant mothers

Lauren Glendenning/Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health

Breastfeeding rates in the United States have been rising, but there's a national effort to encourage even more mothers to breastfeed their babies, thanks to all of the health benefits it provides.

In the U.S., 75 percent of mothers start out breastfeeding, but only 13 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed at the end of six months, according to the Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months, with continued breastfeeding alongside introduction of complementary foods for at least one year, while the World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding, along with appropriate complementary foods, age 2 or beyond.

Memorial Regional Health offers "What to Expect" classes for pregnant women during each month of their pregnancies. The classes provide information about breastfeeding, parenting, childbirth, and general wellness. Labor and Delivery Nurse Jennifer Hergenreter and Certified Nurse Midwife Liz Sterling have additional training and experience to assist mothers, both at the hospital and after they go home. And, at any point during a mother's breastfeeding journey, Hergenreter and Sterling said they can help with latch issues, milk supply issues, weight gain, tips on returning to work, pumping, and anything between.

Barriers to breastfeeding

Breastfeeding might be natural, but it doesn't always come naturally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only one in four infants is exclusively breastfed as recommended by the time they are 6 months old.

There are a variety of issues and reasons women struggle to breastfeed for the recommended time frames. These include a lack of knowledge, lactation problems, a lack of family or social support, social norms, embarrassment, employment and child care issues, and health services, according to the Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.

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American women of childbearing age are often employed, a new norm that differs from past generations. The surgeon general's report states that employed women are less likely to initiate breastfeeding, and they tend to breastfeed for a shorter length of time than women who are not employed.

Breastfeeding can also cause pain early on, but Sterling and Hergenreter can help with latching issues, which are the common cause for more severe breastfeeding pain.

For mothers who are concerned they weren't able to breastfeed their first baby and assume that'll be the case with another baby, MRH reminds mothers that every baby is different, and every experience is different.

"At MRH, we can help you navigate the issues you struggled with the first time and help you to be successful this time around," Sterling said.

The benefits of breastfeeding

Breast milk is perfectly formulated to nourish your baby, Sterling said. It's rich in nutrients babies can digest easily, and it also has antibodies that protect babies from infection.

Hergenreter and Sterling point out the many benefits for babies, which include a decrease in their risk for asthma, leukemia, childhood obesity, ear infections, respiratory infections, sudden infant death syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and GI diseases.

"Breastfeeding provides unmatched health benefits for babies and mothers. It is the clinical gold standard for infant feeding and nutrition, with breast milk uniquely tailored to meet the health needs of a growing baby. We must do more to create supportive and safe environments for mothers who choose to breastfeed," according to Dr. Ruth Petersen, director of CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity.

Breastfeeding is, of course, a choice, first and foremost. That's why MRH nurses and doctors make sure they're offering pregnant women all the right tools and education to make the best decision for their family.

"Prior to delivery, it is beneficial to attend a breastfeeding class, like the one available at MRH. This helps prepare the mom beforehand, so she has a greater chance of success," Hergenreter said. "Knowing things like the steps to achieving a good latch, facts about colostrum and milk supply, different positions, and the benefits of breastfeeding can be really helpful."

Health benefits of breastfeeding

• Breastfeeding protects babies from infections and illnesses, including diarrhea, ear infections, and pneumonia.

• Breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma.

• Children who are breastfed for six months are less likely to become obese.

• Breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

• Mothers who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Breastfeeding can also help lower a mother’s risk of the following.

• Heart disease

• Type 2 diabetes

• Ovarian cancer

• Breast cancer

* Source: Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.