You see it on the national news and on social media: Breastfeeding Mother Denied the Right to Feed Baby in Store XYZ. The simple act of providing nourishment for a child can prove to be a challenge for many women due not only to cultural ideas or public opinion but also by the media’s perception of breasts. Breastfeeding mothers may also lack support from their own family. And yet breastfeeding is one of the best things women can do for their babies. I had the honor of speaking with Notesong Srisopark Thompson, RN, BSN, JD, and Certified Lactation Counselor, on the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child. Notesong has worked this year with the WWHF GrapeVine Project providing breastfeeding workshops to mothers and nurses. Her main goal is to support the supporters of a breastfeeding mother. Her work started in Milwaukee, but the workshops are now branching throughout the state through the GrapeVine Project.
Health Benefits for Baby
The benefits for a newborn infant are innumerable. Colostrum, the milk produced by the mother in the first days, is high in antibodies for the newborn. “Every time you breastfeed, it is like you are giving your infant an immunization that is free and natural,” said Notesong. “Infants that are breastfed for the first six months have a lower incidence of ear infections, diarrhea and other respiratory illnesses. RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a respiratory illness that fills the baby’s airway with mucus making breathing difficult. This can lead to complications and hospitalizations.” Breastfed infants receive maternal antibodies from their mother which can protect the baby from being infected with RSV. It is important to remember that a newborn’s immune system just begins to mature by the age of one and it is not fully mature until after a child reaches six years of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that breastfed babies tend to gain the right amount of weight, thus reducing rates of childhood obesity.
Nutritional Benefits for Baby
Breastmilk ensures that infants receive the necessary levels of vitamins and minerals they require. Studies have shown that the essential fatty acids in breastmilk improve cognitive function and vision in infants.
The benefits of breastfeeding can appear later in a child’s life as there is a reduced rate of juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and cancer before the age of 15 in a child who was breastfed. Several studies reported that adults who were breastfed as infants have lower blood pressure on average than those who were formula-fed.
Benefits for Mom
Women who breastfeed receive amazing benefits too. Notesong emphasized this fact, “A woman who breastfeeds her child can burn up to 600 calories a day. This helps mom get back her pre-pregnancy shape. It helps your uterus shrink too. Breast cancer is reduced by 4.6% each month you breast feed.” The rates of uterine cancer and Type II diabetes are both lower in women who have breastfed their babies.
How Can We Support Breastfeeding Mothers?
“A woman who has support will breastfeed longer,” said Notesong. “We need to be loving, and supportive to her. We need to lift her up and empower her.” Barriers that can cause a mother to stop breastfeeding include mastitis, soreness, work and not having enough support from family and loved ones. “We hope that a mother can breastfeed her child at least 6 months or longer. The World Health Organization recommends 2 years of breastfeeding,” said Notesong. “We need to build a ‘Force Field’ around the mother,” stressed Notesong. “The ‘Force Field’ should be the people who love the mother.” That can include the husband, family members, friends, and co-workers. How can we build that ‘Force Field’?
1. Support the mother. A simple task of bringing her water shows you care.
2. Help provide knowledge to mothers and educate their supporters. Certified lactation counselors and health care providers can provide breastfeeding skills that help the mother have a positive experience.
3. Help break down the barriers to breastfeeding. Provide lactation areas at work and allow the mother to take breaks to express breast milk.
4. Normalize breastfeeding. Notesong suggests “When you see a breastfeeding mother in public talk to her and acknowledge that she is doing something great, healthy, and important for her baby.”
Breastfeeding Text Support
Notesong shared the newest piece of technology to support breastfeeding mothers, texting! “Mothers who sign up for our text support can receive texts about breastfeeding from 28 weeks of pregnancy up until their child reaches 6 months of age. If the mother is having a problem, the first thing is to get her connected with local resources that can help answer her question. We like to connect the mothers with area breastfeeding support groups or WIC programs. Texts will consist of breastfeeding information and encouraging words. Information for this text program can be found on the WWHF website (http://www.wwhf.org/programs/first-breath/textingform/).
Let’s Advocate for Women and Their Health
Let’s support new mothers by encouraging them in everything they do to keep their baby and themselves healthy. Being a new mother can be emotionally and physically draining so reach out and be their ‘Force Field’.
Because it all begins with a healthy woman…
Sue Ann Thompson is founder and president of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation (WWHF), a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to help Wisconsin women and their families reach their healthiest potential. WWHF provides programs and conducts forums that focus on education, prevention, and early detection; connects individuals to health resources; produces and distributes the most up-to-date health education and resource materials; and, awards grants and scholarships to women health researchers and related community non-profits. To learn more, visit wwhf.org or call 1-800-448-5148.