Breastfeeding benefits

When Katherine Witherall learned she was pregnant with her first child, she knew she would breast feed. To her it was the logical choice because that is what her mother had done with her and her siblings.

“It seemed natural, like nature’s way,” she said.

But when Esther, now 2½, was delivered by emergency cesarean section at Bayfront Health Spring Hill and admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NIC-U) for seven days, Witheral faced unexpected obstacles. Esther was given a bottle when Witherall wasn’t able to be with her.

“This made breastfeeding very difficult,” Witherall said. “But after we came home from the hospital she got used to breastfeeding only and it was easy again.”

Witherall weaned Esther at 14 months.

Her second child, Drew, now two months old, was a different experience. Witherall delivered Drew at Tampa General Hospital because she wanted to have a vaginal delivery. He was born healthy and immediately took to her breast.

According to Florida Department of Health Hernando, “research shows that babies who receive only breast milk for the first six months of life are less likely to develop a wide range of chronic and acute diseases, including ear infections, diarrheal diseases, asthma, obesity and respiratory illnesses.

“Mothers also benefit from breastfeeding with a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.”

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While it is the most natural option a new mother can offer her newborn, breastfeeding requires some adjustments.

“Every baby is different. Every birth is different. Every mother is different,” said Shanna Reynolds, a certified lactation consultant and one of the principals in a lactation support company, Total Lactation Care, in Spring Hill.

It is important for new mothers to become educated as much as possible before the birth and to have support systems in place if problems arise, she said.

Reynolds is a peer counselor for WIC (Women, Infants, Children), a food and nutrition service of Florida’s Department of Health Hernando. Each Thursday evening, Reynolds joins a team of counselors and holds breastfeeding classes and a support group for breastfeeding families in the Enrichment Center at Bayfront Health Spring Hill.

Reynolds said one of the biggest obstacles to successful breastfeeding is a lack of support. While natural in its dynamics, breastfeeding can be difficult if the mom isn’t coached correctly.

She encourages pregnant moms to seek as much information as possible before a baby’s delivery. Learning about the benefits to both mother and child is the first step in making an educated and objective decision.

Not all mothers choose to breastfeed their babies. Reynolds hopes those who do not breastfeed are not swayed by fallacies or stigmas that easily can be overcome.

Her suggestion to new mothers is to obtain as much information as possible before the baby’s birth. While in the hospital postpartum, Reynolds stressed the importance of immediate skin-to-skin contact by placing the newborn on the mother’s naked chest. “This triggers the baby’s natural instinct to nurse,” she said.

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Another obstacle to successful breastfeeding is a fear the baby isn’t getting enough nourishment from the breast. A good rule of thumb is that newborns should be fed every one to three hours with a feeding every 2½ hours being a good goal to work toward.

“Wake the baby,” she said. Allowing the newborn to sleep through a feeding might prevent proper nourishment.

Moreover, newborns and infants should produce adequate soiled diapers and gain at least 4 ounces a week or reach their birth weight within two weeks of their birth.

The fear of not producing an adequate supply of milk is another worry she hears. The reality, she said, is that only 5 percent of failed breastfeeding attempts are due to lack of milk production. If the baby isn’t thriving, it usually is because of latching issues and not the mother’s supply.

“Breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt,” she said. Pain happens if the baby does not latch on deeply or correctly. If there is any pain or the mother resorts to using ointments to reduce discomfort, she should seek help immediately from a lactation consultant.

Florida’s Department of Health Hernando and Bayfront Health are kicking off Breastfeeding Awareness month with an event 6-8 p.m. Thursday for expectant mothers at the Enrichment Center at Bayfront Health Spring Hill.

For more information about healthy breastfeeding or to inquire about classes and support, contact the Department of Health Hernando at (352) 540-6800.

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