If your only exposure (pun intended) to women’s breasts was through the pages of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, you’d have a rather unrealistic view of female anatomy.
As perky and voluptuous as they may be—especially in those sun-drenched beach photographs—breasts were naturally designed to fuel babies, not fantasies.
Because August is National Breastfeeding Month, we set out to learn more about the benefits and how to’s of feeding baby through breast milk.
Christy Jergens, public information officer at the Florida Department of Health in Marion County, and Jennifer Tartaglia, senior public health nutritionist supervisor, a registered dietitian and a certified lactation counselor in the same office, graciously answered our questions. Both Christy and Jennifer are also moms who’ve breastfed their own babies.
If you’re looking for one simple reason, it’s a budget-friendly option.
“It costs about $1,500 a year for formula and supplies, while breast milk is free,” observes Christy.
Of course, the benefits of breastfeeding extend far beyond saving money. Scientific research shows that compared with formula-fed infants, those who are breastfed have a reduced risk of infections, childhood obesity, asthma, diarrhea, vomiting, type 2 diabetes and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The benefits also extend to mom. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, type 2 diabetes, anemia and osteoporosis. It can strengthen the bond between mother and child, as well as lower the risk of postpartum depression, as compared to moms who don’t breastfeed.
“It may also help new moms lose weight and get back to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly,” adds Jennifer.
If you’re looking for a “green” reason, breastfeeding is good for the environment, as there’s no waste and no plastic, paper or energy resources required.
Moms in Florida have obviously paid attention to these important issues, as 88 percent of them breastfeed or pumped breast milk for at least a period of time after giving birth.
When a baby nurses in the first day or two, he receives vital antibodies and nutrients in his mother’s first milk known as colostrum. The hormones and growth factors in the milk help strengthen the immune system, develop and protect the baby’s stomach and gastrointestinal system, and also fight against bad bacteria.
The levels of fat, protein, sugar and water in breast milk naturally changes as the baby grows, and breast milk is naturally easy for the baby to digest. For the greatest benefits, doctors recommend exclusively breastfeeding through age 6 months old and then continuing to breastfeed until baby turns 1 or later.
“Breast size does not determine whether or not you can breastfeed,” says Jennifer. “It’s a myth that breasts are too small or too large to breastfeed.”
No matter how small or large a mother’s breasts, her baby should latch onto the breast on the areola, not the nipple. For the best latch, the baby should take in more breast on the chin side than on the nose side, and his lips should flare out (think “fish lips”).
You may have to experiment with different positions that will make it easier for you and your baby. This is where a breastfeeding pillow can be a big help, as it helps position and support the baby for optimal feeding and eases the strain on a mother’s arms.
“Moms need help learning how to best position their babies and themselves to have a successful breastfeeding relationship early on,” says Christy. “We definitely recommend taking a breastfeeding class a month or two before delivery.”
The Florida Department of Health in Marion County offers classes twice a month, and breastfeeding peer counselors are available by phone even on nights and weekends.
Two common issues that can interfere with baby getting a good latch are “tongue-tie” and “lip-tie.” In both cases, a tiny piece of connecting tissue known as a frenulum is too tightly attached under the tongue or under the top lip. A simple surgical procedure is usually all that’s required to free the tissue.
How Much Is Enough?
A common question from new mothers who are breastfeeding is how to know if the baby is getting enough milk. Unlike with formula feeding, you can’t just look at a bottle to see how much milk was consumed.
“Right after birth, the baby’s stomach is only about the size of a shooter marble, so in the first days, you’re breastfeeding every couple hours,” explains Jennifer.
Frequent nursing (eight or more times every 24 hours) in the first few days will satisfy your baby and prompt your milk to “come in.”
Weight gain is an easy way to know if your baby is getting the right amount of milk.
“When babies are born, they do lose weight, but by two weeks, they should have gained back to their birth weight,” notes Jennifer. “We like to see them double their birth weight by six months and triple it by one year.”
Diaper changes will also tell if a baby is getting enough milk. By the time the baby is 4 days old, he should have three to four poopy diapers per day and the same number of wet diapers. By day five, wet diapers should increase to six or more within a 24-hour period.
As time goes on, a baby who receives nothing but breast milk will nurse anywhere from four to 13 times a day or an average of eight times daily.
Real Moms’ Stories
Joanne Strother’s son was born early at 35 weeks. Although he had jaundice and had to stay in the hospital overnight, she was still able to breastfeed him within an hour after birth.
“Breastfeeding helped his jaundice pass quickly,” says Joanne, who had taken a breastfeeding class while pregnant. Her sister attended the class with her and was also in the delivery room.
“Her support was great. She reminded me to point my nipple toward the roof of his mouth to help him latch on easier,” Joanne remembers. “When he was 2 weeks old, I was so exhausted I was ready to give up breastfeeding, but with the support of my family, I continued.”
Joanne continues to nurse her 2-year-old son and plans to do so until he’s ready to wean himself.
“I’m still doing it because I know it’s great for his health. He’s only had one ear infection,” she notes. “I believe breastfeeding does help you bond with your child. It’s amazing to see your child thrive off your breast milk and know that you’re nourishing your own child. It makes you feel like a super mom.”
The mother of four children ranging in age from 7 to 18, Tadamika Reyes (Tada for short) has nursed all of her children.
She chose to breastfeed primarily for the health of her children but was also happy that it was so much more economical than formula.
With each child, she found that they weren’t sick as often as their peers once they started attending preschool and beyond.
With her first child, Tada recalls that she had trouble with the baby latching on during the first few days.
“I talked with someone at the hospital, and they helped me,” she says. “It was an easy fix; they recommended more skin-to-skin contact, as this calms the baby and they latch on better.”
Just because something is natural, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy from the start.
“Learning about breastfeeding and actually doing it are different. Even though I’m a certified lactation counselor, I asked for help in the hospital,” says Jennifer. “We see all these depictions of mothers happily breastfeeding, and that’s not realistic, but help is available.”
“Every child and situation is different. If you expect everything to be smooth sailing, you’ll get frustrated and be tempted to quit,” adds Christy. “It’s completely normal to experience challenges with breastfeeding, but women don’t always have the shared knowledge of how common it is to have problems, and new moms are so vulnerable to feeling a sense of failure.”
In addition to regular breastfeeding classes and the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program, the Florida Department of Health also offers a Healthy Start program.
“It’s risk-based not income-based, so if you’re having trouble breastfeeding, you can get one-on-one-help at no cost,” explains Christy. “Someone from the program can come to your home, evaluate and address any problems, and help you learn techniques for easier breastfeeding.”
Marion County WIC: (352) 622-1161
Marion County Healthy Start Program: (352) 644-2717
Average Baby Weight Gain
- Birth to 1 month: 4 1/2 oz per week
- 1 to 2 months: 6 1/2 oz per week
- 2 to 3 months: 4 1/2 oz per week
- 3 to 4 months: 4 oz per week
- 4 to 5 months: 3 1/2 oz per week
- 5 to 6 months: 3 oz per week
- 6 to 12 months: 2 1/4 oz per week
- Breast pump and milk storage bags
- Bottle warmer
- Nursing bras
- Nursing pads
- Nursing-friendly clothing/
- Nursing pillow
- Lanolin for sore nipples
The Law Is On Your Side
Uninformed people may be squeamish about seeing a mother breastfeeding in public, but rest assured—the law is on the mom’s side. Under Florida law (FS 383.015), a woman has the right to breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private. Most women tend to find a private location and/or cover themselves while doing so, but that’s not required by law. And if you go back to work while still breastfeeding, your employer is required to provide time and a private space (not a bathroom!) where you can pump breast milk.
Mama’s Must-Haves Giveaway
Are you a new mom or soon-to-be mom? Then enter to win our breastfeeding essentials basket! Just stay tuned to Healthy Living’s Facebook page for prompts on how to enter and you could win our basket filled with the following:
- Nanobébé Breastmilk Bottles ($10.99; $22.99/3-pack)
- Lansinoh Nursie Breastfeeding Pillow ($24.99)
- Lansinoh SmartPump Double Electric Breast Pump ($145)
- UpSpring Milkflow Fenugreek + Blessed Thistle Chai Tea Latte Powder Drink Mix ($17.99)
- UpSpring Milkscreen ($9.99/5-pack)
- UpSpring Charcoal Fusion Belly Slimming Nursing Tank ($39.99)
- Lansinoh HPA Lanolin ($9.99)
- Lansinoh Soothies Gel Pads ($9.99)