5 Things You Should Know About Breastfeeding

Michele Burtner, a certified nurse midwife, is associate medical director of breastfeeding and lactation services at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Breastfeeding is one of the healthiest things a mother can do for her newborn baby. It helps create a deeper connection between mother and child and provides children the vital nutrients they need for survival and growth. 

It’s also something that doesn’t always come natural to everyone and can provide stress for a new mother if her intention was to breastfeed.

Nearly two out of three infants aren’t exclusively breastfed for the initial recommended six months, according to the World Health Organization.

“Breastfeeding can be wonderful and challenging all at the same time. There are resources to help parents get started, if they are having issues, or for ongoing support. Reach out for help or questions,” said Michele Burtner, associate medical director of breastfeeding and lactation services at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Burtner discusses five aspects of breastfeeding.

1. Myths

When it comes to breastfeeding, myths run rampant. Common ones include the notion that breastfeeding hurts and a laundry list of certain foods to avoid while breastfeeding.

“It is true there can be some discomfort in the first few days of learning to breastfeed. However, getting help to latch an infant correctly can reduce this discomfort and ultimately help avoid sore and damaged nipples. If any pain persists, parents should seek lactation help,” said Burtner. “With food, lactating parents should eat a well-balanced diet, just like the rest of us. Remember, infants are exposed to all types of foods the mother ate while they were pregnant.”

Another myth she wants to dispel occurs when the mother is going back to work.

“Many mothers continue breastfeeding when they return to work. It can provide challenges, but with the right support and breast pump, it is very doable,” said Burtner. “Breastfeeding does not have to be all or none, so if a mother chooses to supplement her baby, she can still breastfeed as much or as little as desired. It is helpful for parents to take a prenatal breastfeeding class while they are pregnant to learn more about the process and what to expect.”

2. Breastfeeding benefits

There are many benefits of breastfeeding, for both the lactating parent and infant. 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,” she added. “Breastfed babies are also less likely to have ear infections and stomach bugs. A really cool fact is that the mother’s milk changes as the baby grows, in order to meet the baby’s nutritional needs.”

Maternal health benefits of breastfeeding include reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Recovery from childbirth can be quicker and with less risk of heavy postpartum bleeding.

“There is, of course, typically an emotional benefit and bonding for mother and infant,” she said.

3. Breastfeeding trends

With so many different kinds of breast pumps, a new mother may feel overwhelmed. A breast pump is typically held in place by hand or by a nursing bra, a breast pumping bra or a band. There are three kinds — manual, battery-powered and electric. Burtner said an oversupply of breast milk can also be created if the parent pumps much more than their baby needs, which can create other issues. But with so much information people often turn to social media. This could be helpful if the advice is from lactation trained people. But there can also be misinformation out there.

“We recommend checking in with a lactation consultant if there are questions about whether a breast pump is needed or any questions about a particular pump,” she said. “There are many local support groups and lactation-consultants if families have questions or need support.”

4. COVID-19 and breastfeeding

Current evidence suggests that breast milk isn’t likely to spread the virus to babies. If you have COVID-19, wash your hands before breastfeeding and always wear a mask within six feet of your infant. Get a lot of rest and take good care of yourself.

Follow CDC recommendations regarding isolation from others.

“Most often, it is safe to continue breastfeeding if the mother is sick,” Burtner said. “She needs to get herself treated and let her providers know she is breastfeeding, as well as getting rest, staying hydrated and well fed. Most often, there are antibodies made that help fight the illness and can be passed on to the infant.”

5. Breastfeeding timeline

The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend infants be exclusively fed breast milk for the first six months of life, then continue breastfeeding along with introducing of appropriate complementary foods for up to 2 years of age or longer.