From newbies to pros, all moms fortunate enough to be able to breastfeed have nearly identical questions about the benefits of breastfeeding their babes. August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month – the perfect time to get the facts straight on the benefits and challenges of breastfeeding.
“There are many benefits of breastfeeding for the baby – a big one is reduced chance of infections, like colds and viruses,” said Laura Newberry, MD, Pediatrician for Kaiser Permanente. “Rates of infection dramatically decrease if the baby is breastfed and this means a healthier baby. There is also an abundance of nutrition in breastmilk that is not found in formula.”
But it’s not just the babes that benefit. Moms receive a multitude of benefits including precious bonding time, saving money that would otherwise be spent on formula, and even postpartum weight loss- just to list a few. A mom who breastfeed exclusively can burn about 500 calories a day and save more than $2,000 a year.
“It’s important that a mother begins breastfeeding once the baby is born. Most hospitals encourage immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth. They’ll place the newborn on the mom’s chest so they can connect and the baby usually starts suckling at the breast,” says Dr. Newberry.
It does take time though for the actual milk to be produced, suggests Dr. Newberry.
“A clear liquid called colostrum is produced for the first few days but it has all the essential nutrients your newborn needs. Most new moms might be shocked to know that breastmilk is all your newborn needs for about six months. They don’t eat solid foods or drink water until that time,” she said.
Dr. Newberry also advises that breastfeeding can be continued for as long as desired by mom and baby – usually until at least 12 months of age and as long as mutually desired by mother and baby. And since breastfeeding is supply and demand, the more you stimulate the breast through pumping or suckling, the more your body will produce milk.
One topic some of Dr. Newberry’s patients ask about is how and where to get support with breastfeeding.
“Mothers should not be shy about reaching out for lactation support. All hospitals have nurses that specialize in this and are there to help. I advise my patients to reach out from the beginning in the hospital or with your pediatrician. Don’t be shy—you aren’t the first mom to need help and you won’t be the last,” she said.
Breastfeeding isn’t an automatic occurrence, shares Dr. Newberry.
“I think there’s a myth out there that breastfeeding happens naturally, but that’s certainly not the reality I see with my patients. It wasn’t even the case for me,” said Newberry. “It can be very tough, particularly in the first few weeks, so many moms need help and guidance to be successful.”
She explained that once a mom is given a few tips and techniques from her nurse or pediatrician, it becomes easier than formula feeding because you aren’t having to lug bottles around – your breasts are a portable supply of nutrition for your baby.
Newberry shared a big myth that many women believe–moms won’t make enough milk to support their child. This statement has, time and again, been clinically proven to be untrue. Almost all women are able to make enough milk, it’s just a matter of meeting that supply and demand.
Dr. Newberry confesses there’s a culture of shaming moms if breastfeeding does not work out for them.
“I want all moms to know that babies who aren’t breastfed do fine,” said Dr. Newberry. “Obviously, breast is best, but if it ends up that mom and baby have both tried really hard and it doesn’t work out, it’s important to encourage those mothers and reassure them that everything will be okay.”
If a baby has feeding challenges, another option is a breast pump, says Dr. Newberry. Many moms alternate between breastfeeding and pumping, especially when they have to return to work.
There are a few other hurdles moms should be aware of when breastfeeding. Some women who have had breast augmentation may be met with a few challenges, but it doesn’t mean they cannot breastfeed – they just may need additional guidance.
It is best for breastfeeding mothers to abstain from drinking alcohol and smoking and to consume caffeine only in limited quantities. But, should you partake in drinking alcohol, talk to your pediatrician and there are some guidelines to keep in mind.
“If you do drink alcohol, limit it to one occasional drink (12-ounce beer, 4-ounce glass of wine, or 1 ounce of hard liquor). To minimize the amount of alcohol that transfers to your baby, have that long-awaited drink after you nurse or pump milk. Also, allow at least two hours per drink before your next breastfeeding or pumping session,” said Dr. Newberry.
Medications are also another serious concern for breastfeeding moms.
“Moms should check with their pediatrician if they’re taking medications, as some medicines are not safe while breastfeeding,” said Dr. Newberry.
Newberry’s passion for breastfeeding awareness goes beyond Colorado Springs. In 2012, she was working in Malawi – a small country in Africa, one of the poorest countries in the world – as the Chief Physician of the Pediatric Nursery at the University of Malawi Medical School.
It was here she was taking care of children from the age of 0 to six-months-old. Tragically, on nearly a weekly basis, she would see two or three babies die from malnutrition – primarily related to lack of breastfeeding.
“In a country, as poor as Malawi, if you can’t breastfeed your baby then the baby will most likely die. One can of formula is the cost of a month’s rent, so many families can’t afford it. Beyond cost, most families can’t mix the formula properly with clean water. It was devastating,” shared Newberry. “Just like mothers here in the United States who struggle with breastfeeding, mothers in Malawi also struggle, but there wasn’t any support for them.”
Recognizing this void, Newberry began the Malawi Breastfeeding Initiative. Her nonprofit What her nonprofit does is trains local nurses and pairs them with new moms to show them the basics of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is cheap, and all mothers need is good support and a few techniques to be successful. Newberry’s initiative helped and continues to help cut the infant malnutrition rate at University of Malawi Medical School.
Newberry’s passion for breastfeeding education lead her to join Kaiser Permanente because of their focus on prevention.
“An ounce of prevention worth more than the cure, so I knew Kaiser Permanente would be a good fit for me coming back from Africa. They had similar values to what I believe in,” she said. “It’s all about building a relationship with the patient, and listening to them and supporting them. Kaiser Permanente is all about the doctor-patient relationship – they foster and place a big emphasis on that.”
New moms can enjoy the fact that Kaiser Permanente medical offices are a one-stop shop. They can see their pediatrician, pick up their prescription and get lab work done all in one building rather than running all over town.
Laura Newberry, MD is currently accepting new patients.
- Laura Newbery, MD, is with the state’s largest physician group—the Colorado Permanente Medical Group—which serves the 680,000 members of Kaiser Permanente in Colorado. To learn more about how Kaiser Permanente can help your family thrive, visit kp.org or