August is National Breastfeeding Month, which is a great time to address common questions about lactation, infant nutrition, pain during breastfeeding and more.
Mona Waheed, patient care liaison at Agave Pediatrics and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, tackled several questions — from why breast milk is nutritious to knowing when to seek medical attention for problems such as clogged milk ducts. Waheed answered our questions in conjunction with the Lactation Team at Agave Pediatrics, which boasts locations in Chandler, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale and Goodyear. Here’s what she shared:
What’s the best argument for making every effort to breastfeed your baby if you can? Human milk is the biological norm for human babies. It is customized nutrition for your baby. The health and psychological benefits are well researched and documented. The benefits of breast/chest feeding are lifelong. There are multiple resources available for support, and I recommend seeking out that support early. Taking a class, going to a support group and/or meeting with a lactation consultant prenatally are great ways to establish a good foundation. Most challenges are easily fixed with the right help.
Does it hurt to breastfeed initially? Breastfeeding for the first time is definitely a new sensation, and some tugging, pulling and tenderness may occur. The letdown feeling can even have a painful or prickling sensation to it. However, pain, extreme discomfort or any level of damage is not normal. It’s your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t right, and that you need some support.
What are some ways to soothe nipple pain from breastfeeding? There are a lot of products available that claim to soothe and heal. In the beginning, it can be helpful for some moms to use an over-the-counter nipple remedy to relieve any chaffing or discomfort. However, if there is already damage to the nipple, these remedies will most likely not help. The cause of the damage is what needs to be fixed. A poor latch is the No. 1 reason for nipple pain and damage. If you do have damage, it can be helpful to soak your nipples in a warm saline solution a couple of times per day. Make sure your hands are clean when applying any ointment to damaged nipples to prevent infection. Using gel pads instead of ointment can be soothing as well.
How do you know when it’s time to see a medical provider when something feels wrong — like a possible duct blockage? During pregnancy and postpartum, our breasts go through many changes in just a few months! Some changes are normal, like breast growth and nipple sensitivity. But pain is our signal that something needs attention. Plugged ducts and damaged nipples that don’t resolve with home remedies in a day or two should prompt a call to an IBCLC so we can help you troubleshoot and resolve the issue. You may need an appointment with your OB or PCP if you develop a fever, body aches, rash or infection.
Do you think breastfeeding made a resurgence during the pandemic since more people were able to work at home? I think many families have experienced both benefits and challenges by working from home! Many moms have been able to extend their breastfeeding goal by being with their baby during the day, instead of weaning when starting daycare and going back to work. However, caring for a baby while working takes creativity, organizational skills and multitasking. Families are making it work by parents taking turns caring for the baby during the workday, handing baby to the other parent when a Zoom meeting starts or learning to pump below camera-level. Coworkers love to get a peek at the little ones when they join the video call for a moment!
What are some of the biggest hurdles to breastfeeding that you hear from moms, and how do you help address them? Lack of support and accurate information can really be “booby traps” for breastfeeding parents. Surrounding yourself with other breastfeeding parents (online or in-person support groups, friends, etc.), taking a breastfeeding course or meeting with a lactation consultant before the baby’s arrival is so helpful. Learning about breastfeeding after your baby’s birth is kind of like learning how to drive on the freeway!
How will you know if your baby is getting enough milk from breastfeeding? Responding to your baby’s hunger cues, as opposed to feeding on a schedule, is the first step, and ideal for both baby’s weight gain and milk supply! Weight gain is the most reliable way to determine if your baby is getting enough, followed by diaper output. That’s why well checks are so important. Following baby’s weight consistently over time gives us a better picture of what’s going on.
What do you look for in a good breast pump, and does the Affordable Care Act make access to pumps more affordable? There are brands that are more popular than others, but almost more important than the pump is the flange fit and frequency of pumping. Insurance has definitely made access to high-quality pumps easier, however, there are many parents who slip through the gaps in coverage and are left with limited options. An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant is always happy to help guide parents in their pumping journey, whether it’s to find a pump, get the right fit, or figure out how often to pump for the best results.
What didn’t I ask that you’d like to add? I’d love to touch on the role of an IBCLC. We are a unique type of provider focusing on two (or more in the case of multiples!) patients — the breastfeeding parent and the breastfeeding baby, referred to as a “dyad.” We care deeply and equally for both. IBCLCs are there to support the dyad in any way, whether the goal is to exclusively breastfeed, exclusively pump, partially breastfeed or wean partially or completely. Your insurance may cover one or more consults, and many IBCLCs offer discounts to those without insurance coverage. Before spending money on fancy cookies/drinks, over-the-counter supplements and breastfeeding gadgets, use those funds to seek some professional guidance. A few positioning tweaks, an early referral to a tongue-tie provider, or some basic breastfeeding info can help you meet your breastfeeding goals!
5 benefits of breastfeeding
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes breastfeeding is the optimal source of nutrition for a baby through the first year of life and recommends exclusively breastfeeding for about the first six months, then gradually adding solid foods while continuing breastfeeding until at least the baby’s first birthday. Here are five benefits of breastfeeding from AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most babies, because a mother’s milk changes to meet her baby’s nutritional needs as it grows.
- Breastfeeding can help protect babies against some short- and long-term illnesses and diseases. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes and sudden infant death syndrome. Breastfed babies are also less likely to have ear infections and stomach bugs.
- Breast milk shares antibodies from the mother with her baby. These antibodies help develop a strong immune system.
- Mothers can breastfeed anytime, anywhere without worrying about mixing formula and packing bottles.
- Breastfeeding can reduce the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.