According to the Centers for Disease Control, breastfeeding rates have been on the rise in the United States for the past decade. The upward trend in breastfeeding has been accompanied by public debates, some backed by peer-reviewed and scientific articles, others guided by family members’ opinions, and some influenced by what is posted (and trending) on social media. In the end, it is clear that the most accurate information on the benefits of breastfeeding are not readily available to those who need it most: mom and baby. To prepare students in the likely event that they treat a patient who is breastfeeding or pregnant and contemplating breastfeeding, the OBGYN Club hosted a lecture (the first of a three-part series) on the basics of breastfeeding.
The series kicked off on Tuesday, February 12th with a lecture on the anatomy of the breast and the complexities of milk production. Led by Katie Halverstadt, RN, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Chair of the Colorado Breastfeeding Coalition, the goal of the semester-long series is to provide students with accurate and comprehensive information on the benefits and processes of breastfeeding.
The first question to be asked was: why do we breastfeed? Breast milk contains immune supporting properties that decrease the risk of ear and gastrointestinal infections, diabetes, and obesity. Babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months also experience fewer bouts of diarrhea and respiratory illnesses. Furthermore, the baby is not the only one that benefits from the process of breastfeeding. Mothers who breastfeed have lower risks of breast and ovarian cancers. The act of breastfeeding also helps them burn calories and lose pregnancy weight.
The lecture also covered the long-running debate of breast milk vs. formula. When comparing the ingredients in breast milk to those found in formula, breast milk contains three times more nutrients, including proteins, vitamins, antimicrobial factors, enzymes, free fatty acids, and hormones than formula. The ingredients found in breast milk are custom made for the baby by the mother and allow for a healthy pH balance in their gut. Videos delved deeper into the anatomical process of milk production, such as how the content of breast milk changes from day one to day seven and how the baby’s saliva can influence the production of milk. Following the videos, a discussion took place on the importance of breastfeeding immediately after birth (to ensure adequate milk supply) and how scheduling feedings may actually be counterproductive to maintaining the milk supply for however long the mother chooses to breastfeed.
However, there are times when breastfeeding may not be an option for mom and baby. Donor milk (from milk banks) is a phenomenal alternative for mothers to use, with formula available as a last resort. Ms. Halverstadt cautioned that when exploring those options, it is important to discuss milk-sharing with a primary care physician and, if formula is to be used, it is important to read the ingredients on the formula packaging as they can vary per brand.
The session ended with an additional discussion on the obstacles mothers may face in learning more about the benefits of breastfeeding for both her and her baby, such as lack of insurance coverage for lactation consultations and even well-meaning, but outdated advice from family members. The next lecture in the series, taking place on Tuesday, March 19th, will focus on latching and positioning.