As an obstetrician-gynecologist, I believe in the power of breastfeeding – the benefits it provides to both mother and child cannot be emphasized enough. However, as a breastfeeding mother, I know it can be incredibly difficult. From nipple pain to challenges with latching and milk supply, the process can be daunting. And that is why mothers need more support in their breastfeeding journeys.

My personal breastfeeding journey with one of my babies

With one of my kiddos, my breastfeeding relationship started with a NICU stay for him, coinciding with 2 ICU stays for me. A NICU nurse wheeled his isolette up to me in the ICU every few hours to help me feed for as long as we wanted until I could transfer to the floor. A few weeks later, he had lip and tongue ties taken down. Then, I pumped and dumped for a PET scan at two weeks old and couldn’t hold him for 12 hours after.⁣

And finally, when he was four weeks old, I had another major surgery. My anesthesia team created my anesthetic plan with breastfeeding in mind – they brought my pump to the OR with plans to pump me during surgery, depending on how long it took. They left an epidural in for three days post-op to cut down on the narcotics I required so unsafe levels wouldn’t transfer to him.

Postoperatively, my husband stayed with me in the hospital for a week and set a timer to help me pump every three hours around the clock. He washed my pump parts and took all my milk to my baby daily. My family cared for my baby around the clock, feeding him my pumped milk and bringing him to visit me every other day to breastfeed.⁣

I share all of this not to prove anything about me – I share this story because the only way I was able to continue this breastfeeding relationship is because of the unconditional 24-hour support I had from my husband, my family, my healthcare team, and from a baby who never gave up on me. Without them, I would have had zero chance of success.⁣ To increase breastfeeding, we must support our postpartum moms in every way possible.

The power of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is the most effective way to provide ideal nutrition for a newborn, boosting immunity and promoting growth and development. It creates a strong bond between mother and child and can even reduce the risk of postpartum depression. However, it can be a full-time job that requires patience and perseverance. Many mothers struggle with milk supply, which can result in feelings of frustration and inadequacy. It is essential to remember that teaming up with a lactation consultant or support group can mitigate challenges and provide the guidance needed to achieve breastfeeding success.

Breastfeeding is hard. You may not “get it” right away.

Secondly, it is common for new mothers to feel pain and discomfort during breastfeeding. This discomfort is mainly due to the baby’s improper latching or positioning. It is also due to nipple soreness, which is almost inevitable in the first few weeks of nursing. However, don’t worry – this usually improves with time, education, and proper technique, including the correct positioning of the baby. If nipple soreness persists, using lanolin-based creams can also help. Do not hesitate to contact your breastfeeding resources, such as a lactation specialist, if your pain does not improve.

What are the maternal benefits of breastfeeding?

There are quite a few! They include:

  • Postpartum weight loss⁣
  • Better mood⁣
  • Reduced risks of:⁣
    • Postpartum bleeding⁣
    • UTIs⁣
    • Anemia⁣
    • Postpartum depression⁣
    • Breast cancer⁣
    • Ovarian cancer⁣
    • Diabetes⁣
    • Hypertension⁣
    • Heart disease⁣
    • Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus⁣

Infant benefits of breastfeeding

  • Stronger immune systems⁣
  • Better vision⁣
  • Reduced risk of: ⁣
    • Diarrhea
    • Constipation
    • GERD
    • Colds and respiratory illnesses⁣
    • Ear infections⁣
    • Bacterial meningitis⁣
    • Childhood leukemia⁣
    • Hospitalizations⁣
    • Infant mortality⁣
    • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)⁣
    • Diabetes⁣
    • Allergies
    • Eczema
    • Asthma⁣
    • Obesity later in life⁣

How long should you breastfeed?

The WHO, AAP, and ACOG recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. After that, complementary foods can be given along with continued breastfeeding for up to 2 years (WHO) and for as long “as mutually desired by the woman and her infant (ACOG).”⁣
⁣If you can’t or don’t want to breastfeed, that’s okay.

In a day and age where many women have to juggle work and motherhood, it is challenging to breastfeed for an extended period. I only did so because of my support system. And while I love to support breastfeeding, a happy and healthy mom and baby is the primary goal. It has to be mutually beneficial for both parties to make breastfeeding successful. And if it’s not, an informed decision to change direction may be the best thing for both.

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