Last month, Middlesex Hospital announced that it is now offering pasteurized donor breast milk to breastfed babies who are premature, or infants who have medical conditions such as low blood sugar or jaundice. It is an option that will help mothers until they are able to increase their own milk production, but why is breastfeeding beneficial, especially for those with more serious health conditions?
Breastfeeding a baby results in many health benefits. For example, breast milk contains antibodies that help babies fight off viruses and bacteria. It contains all the nutrients your baby needs at that time, and studies show that breastfed babies are at reduced risk for the development of major health issues, including decreased rates of childhood diabetes, childhood cancers and childhood obesity.
For babies who have serious health conditions, exclusively breastfeeding is beneficial and a choice that should be respected when a medical need for increased milk intake is determined, says Laura Pittari, the lead neonatal nurse practitioner at Middlesex Hospital’s Pregnancy & Birth Center. She says donor breast milk is a more gentle option than formula and is less likely to lead to additional complications.
"We may not be able to control the medical needs of an infant, but we can control what we choose to feed them," Pittari says.
Like their babies, moms also benefit from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding promotes infant bonding and helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis and breast and ovarian cancers.
At Middlesex Hospital, 65 percent of moms who gave birth at the Hospital in 2016 choose to exclusively breastfeed. Others attempted to breastfeed, but also occasionally supplemented formula.
Many new moms struggle with breastfeeding in the beginning, and Brianna McNally, a lactation consultant for the Hospital’s Pregnancy & Birth Center says that's normal. She says breastfeeding is a learned process, and it takes time for both the mom and the baby to figure each other out.
"Be patient," McNally says. The first two weeks are the hardest."
McNally also says that moms should stay well hydrated if they want to maintain a good supply of breast milk, and they shouldn't watch the clock. McNally says you can leave a baby on the first breast until they decide to unlatch on their own. At that point, offer the second breast, but do not be concerned if the baby doesn't want it. She says it is typical for some babies to take one breast during some feedings and both breasts during others.
New moms who have questions and need information should seek support from nursing staff, lactation consultants, local breastfeeding groups and other nursing moms.