Do ALL women really have to breastfeed?
We’ve all heard the slogan “Breast is Best” for years. There is good data that there is some benefit to breast feeding. For those of us who’ve been able to breastfeed our babies, there’s a lot of feelings of it’s benefits, convenience, and the positive feedback from the experience itself. The data, however, shows something else. In 2018, a study was published that reviewed outcomes of babies based on their mother’s intention to breastfeed. There were clearly better outcomes for these babies, regardless of whether or not the babies were actually breastfed.
Since the big move to “Breast is Best” and the Breastfeeding Hospital Initiative (BHI) (or the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative), the breast-feeding rates in the US have quadrupled. Similarly dramatic improvements in child health have not been seen.
The known benefits of breast feeding include:
- Reduced infections and diarrhea in the first year of life
- Lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- For premature infants, reduced risk of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)
With the aggressive changes related to BHI implementation across the country, we’ve also learned of unexpected harms:
- Increased falls of newborns from their mothers in the hospital
- Suffocation due to increased bedsharing
- Increased rates of readmissions of newborns due to jaundice, dehydration and starvation
There’s also the issue of some women (up to 15%) not being able to sufficiently breastfeed a newborn. These women should also be supported with formula supplementation.
In general, women should be educated accurately on the benefits and risks of breastfeeding, fully supported in the early postpartum to help achieve their goals, but also gently encouraged to supplement with formula when there is clearly not enough milk, or the mental health of the mother seems to be deteriorating. There’s also some data to support the value of limited early formula supplementation in women with delayed lactation in more successfully achieving exclusive breastfeeding at 3 months.
Women are a diverse group of individuals and deserve access to the most accurate information so they can each make their own best decisions for themselves and their families. Physicians and nurses should make sure their recommendations include the nuances of the patient’s primary values and goals and take into account her personal situation and that of her newborns.
El Camino Women’s Medical Group offers the latest Minimally Invasive Solutions for gynecologic problems. Drs. Amy Teng, Erika Balassiano, and Pooja Gupta, all members of AAGL (American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopy) are highly trained and experienced in the field of Minimally Invasive Gynecgologic Surgery. Dr. Erika Balassiano is also completed a Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery Fellowship, under the supervision of world-renowned Dr. Camran Nezhat.
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