Thursday, October 04, 2007

Breastfeeding for a Better Future

I am a breastfeeding enthusiast. There. I said it. Some of you may be asking why I would spend blog time on this topic but I’m finding that with each passing day I’m becoming more passionate about this breastfeeding thing. Maybe it’s because at least a dozen of my friends have newborns. Maybe it’s because the more I read about healthy living and eating, the more I realize that it all starts at the very beginning with how we feed our kids. For you men and women who are thinking about having kids in the future, or you mamas-to-be who are already on the path, breastfeeding is worth taking seriously.

Here’s why:

BABY BENEFITS

The benefits abound for babies who are breastfed. There’s really no substitute for what they can gain through this dynamically-designed, natural food from Mama. Dr. Leo Galland, in his book SUPERIMMUNITY FOR KIDS, says “For the first six months of an infant’s life, breast milk is optimum food.” He explains that when a baby is born, his/her immune system is immature. The way I see it, breastfeeding is a bridge for your baby to the point where your child’s immune system is fully developed and ready to meet the nasty things in our world today on its own.

The goal is to start our kids down the path to a healthy future. Dr. Rex Russell, author of WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT HEALTHY LIVING says, “To maintain health, the following must be present simultaneously and in proper balance: organic vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, essential amino acids and unrefined carbohydrates. These are all present in human breast milk, as are hundreds of other lesser understood food factors. The longer scientists study the human breast and its milk, the more obvious it is that neither random chance nor survival of the fittest could explain its complexity.”

This complexity is extraordinary to think about. Yet, 40 to 50 years ago, some scientists decided that breast milk was deficient in both Vitamin D and iron so they invented formula and marketed it as better for babies. Now it pervades our culture (and the world) as “the easy choice.” (Many American moms receive free formula in the mail when they have a baby – just to try out. How’s that for a vote of confidence about breastfeeding?) And I wonder, why were babies before this point in history so healthy? Seems strange.

Why is breast milk the best option? Kids need something called DHA (which is a specific kind of omega-3 fatty acid) for healthy development. Some formulas contain added DHA now (look for these if you must use formula) but breast milk already contains it. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of “DISEASE-PROOF YOUR CHILD, explains, “DHA is also a normal component of breast milk, and infants fed breast milk score higher on intellectual and visual measurements than those fed baby formulas lacking DHA. Children who were breastfed as a group, have higher IQ scores than those who are formula-fed.” Breast milk even helps make kids smart! Move over Baby Einstein.

Breast milk helps protect little ones from disease as well as common sickness. Dr. Russell writes, “Breast fed children have a special resistance to many childhood diseases. This is because the early milk, or colostrum, sets up the infant’s immunoreactive system.”

In his book, Russell quotes a study that examined breast fed infants and followed them up to five years of age. The study found they have a much lower incidence of diarrhea, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, vomiting, asthma, earaches, childhood allergies and crib death. That study alone convinces me.

Here’s more: “Also, viral and bacterial infections, cancers and learning disabilities are less of a problem. Parents of these children may be spared much anguish and also avoid costly medical care.” Ok, so we’re making sacrifices as mothers. We’re investing time into our kids by breastfeeding and we’re saving money on doctor bills in the long run. (I say maybe it’s even worth it financially to take those couple of extra months off work.)

I’ve also discovered that breast milk is truly dynamic, meaning it morphs to meet the needs of a child. A few weeks ago, I had a sinus cold. That baby had me down for three days but my daughter was infected and done with it in less than 24 hours. Why? Russell explains this phenomenon: “Apparently, the infant who is exposed to infections, then nurses from its mother, produces changes in the mother’s breast. Within hours, the next milk starts producing antibodies and immunoglobulins to protect the baby before the infant becomes sick.” I don’t know of any formula or animal’s milk that has the power to change like that. Amazing.

The studies on breastfeeding are many. One study that struck me with its relevance shows that breastfed children are less likely to become obese as they grow older. In today’s society when obesity is so common among elementary children, this is another exciting opportunity to help your child along the path to a healthy future.

Best of all, breastfeeding is free. No messy bottles and formula to mix. No extra items to remember in the diaper bag. If Mama eats healthy, baby reaps the benefits at no extra monetary cost.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that breastfeeding is a huge time investment and requires a lot of work from Mama. I am not one of those people who had an easy time breastfeeding in the beginning. It was a huge wake-up call during Meilani’s first few weeks of life when I would spend 8-10 hours in the glider a day nursing. No wonder they call mothering a full-time job. At moments, I thought I would go crazy. For those of you who know me, you know I am a multi-tasker. I love to be busy. I never stay in one place for too long. I had to quickly accept that especially the first few months of Meilani’s life would have to be a “season of quiet” for me. I learned to keep books, magazines and other distractions all over the house to keep me occupied. I spent a lot of time in prayer and reading my Bible. The good news (or maybe the bad news) is this season was over quickly and we were on to the next phase of eating.

Breastfeeding can be very painful at first too. My Meilani was a “snacker.” She was a tiny little thing and she would nurse for 5-15 minutes and then nod off to sleep. When she would wake up – not more than 30 minutes later – she would be ravenous again and we would have to start the whole cycle again. Not fun. I was engorged. My nipples were sore. She wasn’t latching on properly. She was losing weight. We had all the symptoms that would cause us to give up. But Ericlee and I were determined. We knew the benefits far outweighed the discomfort.

I went to see a wonderful lactation specialist, Suzanne Stipe, at Fresno Community Hospital for some help. We met with her 4-5 times over the first month and she offered me the much-needed encouragement and advice I needed. It took one day of screaming torture but after that we got Meilani on a 2-hour feeding schedule. She started gaining weight. I tried out a nipple shield to relieve some of the pain. (I was worried about this extra “paraphernalia” to hall around but I was able to wean Meilani off this in a month without much problem.) And now the rest is history. Yes, I am still breastfeeding at 16 months and proud of it.

BODY BENEFITS

Breastfeeding helps Mama’s body too. Our bodies are designed to shrink back into their normal state during breastfeeding. You may feel some “contractions” during early breastfeeding, which, of course, isn’t fun, but it’s all part of God’s design to help everything get back to the proper place both inside and outside our bodies. Pretty cool weight-loss plan.

Dr. Galland says, “A bottle can’t help your body recover more quickly from childbirth. Nursing triggers the secretion of vasopressin, a hormone that makes the uterus contract, helping it return to its normal state more quickly than it would otherwise.”

Breastfeeding burns about 250 calories per day, adds Galland, which is the equivalent of a 3-mile run. This about the only time I can think of that sitting in a chair cuddling is actually exercise. (Another reasons for moms to be patient in those first few months when they can’t get out running or to the gym much.)

Breastfeeding may even protect moms from developing breast cancer later in life. Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle report that women who breast feed have half the risk of developing breast cancer compared with those who don’t.

And the fun part is breastfeeding can even make your wardrobe cute and trendy. About a year ago these new “breastfeeding capes” went on the market. Online companies like Hooter Hiders and Bébé Au Lait are making a mint on these beautiful capes in a plethora of colors and patterns to help nursing moms stay modest and comfortable when breastfeeding in public. They’re even available on Craigslist. Go figure.

BONDING

My favorite part of breast feeding is the bonding. After I got past those first hard six weeks, I settled into a routine with Meilani. Breast feeding forced me to slow down, to enjoy each of the stages of my growing little girl. In the mornings and before bed, I had a built-in time for reflection and to feel thankful for this little life.

“The longer the duration of breast feeding, the more measurable the improvement the quality of the mother-child relationship for as long as two years after birth,” writes Dr. Russell. I’m not sure if we’ll be breastfeeding until two years. I realize this isn’t “socially acceptable” in our American culture. Some kids lose interest after a while. For now, I’m still committed as I continue to feed Meilani a healthy diet of solids as well.

The bottom line for me is that breastfeeding is the best option. I realize there are a few cases out there where breastfeeding isn’t an option. These cases are rare. I believe even a few months to start a child off right are helpful. If you need a little boost of encouragement, call me. I’d love to listen.

And now, here’s a chance for you to contribute. Do you have any stories or tips for successful breastfeeding? Any questions we can research together to help encourage others? Leave a comment.

5 comments:

Allison Vasquez said...

I'm hanging in there too!

The Growing VM Family said...

Wow, reported like a true jounalist-- with just enough bias and personal anecdotes to make it fun! :) I learned a lot from reading this and am totally with you. My smart and healthy daughters and my increased bust line reiterate your passion and research findings!

Love, Jen

~Maria~ said...

Nursing was difficult for me in the beginning as well - it took about 4 weeks till things started to smooth out. It wasn't always fun, but I never saw formula as an option, so I stuck it out. I miss it sometimes (I'm getting baby fever again, with all this talk of bf'ing). Thanks for that wonderful article!

Cori said...

You go, girl. The world needs to know! You're my mama hero.

Cindy said...

D, your frankness in sourcing the facts and vulnerability in sharing from your own experience has to be so helpful for new mothers out there, swimming against the tide of societal baby-feeding norms. Much like our diluted views on religion and faith, there is a "do-what makes you happy, whatever that is", mentality, which encourages new mothers to at least try to breastfeed, even if just for the first 6 weeks. The irony is that the first 6 weeks are usually the most difficult and perhaps even unenjoyable breastfeeding period. Breastfeeding your baby, like loving your spouse, training for a marathon, or completing a degree, takes hard work, commitment, and consistency- it is a decision, before it is an action, before it is satisfying, and ultimately, joyful.

You have given great reasons for it to be a constant decision, an action, and I am again encouraged, as it has been a long 7 months now with Ezekial (who still prefers a bottle over the breast from his early days as a preemie). This is such a different experience from my 16 months of breastfeeding Maya, who loved breastfeeding. But I know I have given him the best nutritional start possible in his little life and we've been able to snuggle and fed every sunrise (favorite and sometimes only undistracted time to breastfeed) together), bonding, and enjoying the quiet breaths we share.

Thanks for laying it all out!
Cindy