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Feeding Baby: What You Need to Know

Helping Baby Thrive

Breastfeeding can be a very personal and emotional experience. Although it comes naturally for some, others may feel overwhelmed or uncertain. You can rely on your care providers to guide you with the knowledge and confidence you need to be successful, says Senior Lactation Consultant Jennifer Kleckner of the Breastfeeding Center at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital.

Breast milk provides an infant with optimal nutrition and protection against disease. However, there are circumstances where you may not be able to breastfeed. Whatever feeding method you choose, lactation consultants can help new parents navigate feeding your little one.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life because of the health benefits for mother and baby. After that, the academy recommends breast milk as the primary source of nutrition throughout the first year with the introduction of complementary foods at roughly 6 months.

Research shows that breast milk is the optimal source of nutrition for infants based on the nutrients and protection it provides. “It is important to help mothers understand that there is great value in any amount of breast milk and all of their successes should be celebrated,” says Kleckner.

Lactation consultants like Kleckner work with you to establish personalized feeding plans and serve as your coach. She says that understanding the basics of breastfeeding can be helpful. For example, it’s important to understand:

  • Cluster feeding. Babies generally nurse eight to 12 times within a 24-hour period, although it’s not necessarily every 2 to 3 hours. Cluster feeding is also an important component of milk production.
  • Patterns of nursing. It is important to recognize when a baby is actively drinking at the breast. A lactation consultant can help you recognize typical sucking patterns and swallows so you can be reassured that your baby is getting enough.
  • The importance of a supportive partner. Partners and caregivers play an important role and can be a reassuring voice if you are struggling.

Planning for breastfeeding begins during pregnancy. Kleckner encourages informing your care providers along with your friends and family if you plan to breastfeed. A prenatal lactation visit is encouraged after 32 weeks to discuss your goals. Kleckner also recommends a prenatal lactation consult for those who do not plan on breastfeeding to explore their decision and explain what to expect, as they will still produce milk

Help Baby Thrive With Bottle-feeding

There are reasons you may choose not to breastfeed or a physician would recommend they use an alternative, like formula or donor milk. Even if you do not plan on breastfeeding, a lactation consultant can work with you to explore your options.

“I like to have a better understanding of why they choose not to breastfeed so I can focus my care on the patient and better understand how to tailor care to their needs,” Kleckner says.

Some reasons an alternative feeding method may be recommended:

  • Medication. Some medications can affect milk production or may pass into breast milk. A few examples include some chemotherapies, antiretroviral medicines and radioactive iodine. Ask your physician if there is an appropriate alternative medication that is compatible with breastfeeding.
  • Infections. Some diseases may also enter breast milk or risk infecting babies. Examples include HIV, human T-cell lymphotropic virus, tuberculosis and herpes lesions on the breast.
  • Low milk supply. Some medical conditions may increase the risk of low milk supply, including hypoplastic breasts, polycystic ovary syndrome, hypothyroidism, previous breast surgery and prior radiation treatment for breast cancer.

If you want to breastfeed, the inability to do so can be emotionally painful and hard to accept. However, it’s important to know that you are not alone, and you do have healthy alternatives. Commercially produced formula offers a safe alternative to breast milk and will give your little one the nutrition they need. You can purchase formula as powder, liquid concentrate or ready-to-feed liquid, and each option offers different levels of cost and convenience. Many types of formula are available; work with your pediatrician to find the right one for your baby.

While breastfeeding strengthens the mother-baby bond, one benefit to bottle-feeding is it allows others to participate. When bottle-feeding, establishing eye contact, holding baby’s hand and speaking to him will promote bonding.

Learn more bottle-feeding tips here to make the transition smooth.

Giving to Others With Milk Banks

If you breastfeed and would like to give back, milk banks can be a valuable resource for premature or ill babies. These banks collect and process breast milk donated by mothers with extra milk. Kishwaukee Hospital maintains a Milk Depot, which serves as a drop-off site for donor mothers who have been screened and approved by Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes.

Kleckner likens it to a blood bank, which ensures safe and healthy blood is available when needed. This milk offers the same benefits to baby, including optimal nutrition and increased disease prevention. This is beneficial and prescribed to infants who are preterm, have malabsorption syndromes, immunologic deficiencies or infectious diseases.

Support When You Need It

Whatever your needs may be, help is available to steer you on the right track to make sure your little one thrives. See a lactation consultant early if you have any questions regarding your baby’s feeding and nutrition. Support groups are also available to discuss navigating this new journey.