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To breast-feed or not to breast-feed
Mothers need information early
Breast-feeding is a learned skill. Just as teens must be taught to drive a car, women unfamiliar with nursing must be taught to feed their baby, says Gail Peterson, RN, BSN, MSN, ARNP, IBCLC, a lactation consultant at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, WA.
"If you grew up watching women breast-feed, it is part of your cultural norm; whereas if it is not something you have seen and done, you need to learn how to do it," she says.
Formula-feeding babies became a fashionable practice among the rich during the industrial age and then slowly became popular with the masses because it represented status. In the 1950s, marketing by formula companies helped make bottle-feeding a common practice. "There has been generations of women who haven’t breast-fed and it isn’t an accepted cultural norm," says Peterson. However, an increasing number of new mothers now are choosing to breast-feed.
The decision on whether to breast-feed or bottle-feed usually is made within the first 28 weeks of pregnancy, says Peterson. There are many influencing factors, including the attitude toward breast-feeding of a woman’s husband and relatives as well as her physician’s position on breast-feeding. Many women see their physician as the expert on the subject. If a woman’s maternal mother breast-fed, they are more likely to breast-feed, says Peterson.
It’s important that women learn about the benefits of breast-feeding early in their pregnancy so that they can make an informed decision, says Peterson. Colostrum, the milk made in the early days of a baby’s life, seems to protect him or her from bacteria that can cause illness, she says.
Working mothers need to know that they can return to work and still breast-feed their babies. They can purchase or rent a pump so breast milk is available for the baby when they are not there.
At Sacred Heart Medical Center, a lactation consultant visits women who have decided to breast-feed their baby before discharge because many factors influence how well they will do. These include the size and shape of a baby’s mouth and his or her tongue positioning as well as the size and shape of the mother’s breast and nipples. "It is part of our policy to see each mom, particularly first-time moms," says Peterson. In that way, the consultant can help the mother and baby adjust to breast-feeding.
Lactation consultants at Sacred Heart encourage women to breast-feed for at least a year. The American Academy of Pediatrics based in Elk Grove Village, IL, recommends that babies be given breast milk exclusively for the first six months and that mother’s continue breast-feeding to 1 year of age. The World Health Organization in Geneva recommends breast-feeding a child to age 2.
While there are many American women who now breast-feed their child past a year, society frowns upon it, says Peterson. People feel it is strange for the baby to come up and ask for the breast, although it is considered perfectly normal in Europe. There is a natural weaning point between 15 and 18 months, although some babies are interested in breast-feeding longer, she adds.
"We tell moms that when it comes to the point where they resent breast-feeding more than they enjoy, it they should stop," says Peterson.
[Editor’s note: La Leche League International offers a variety of publications on breast-feeding. To obtain a catalog, contact the organization at 1400 N. Meacham Road, P.O. Box 4079, Schaumburg IL 60168-4079. Telephone: (800) 522-3243 or (847) 519-7730. Web site: www.lalecheleague.org.]
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