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Dr. Rebecca Collins on the many benefits of breastfeeding

Mother and baby breastfeeding.

/ by UK HealthCare

August is National Breastfeeding Month in recognition of the positive effect breastfeeding can have on both mothers and children, so we chatted with Dr. Rebecca Collins, who specializes in breastfeeding support and primary care pediatrics.  

Dr. Collins discussed the many benefits of breastfeeding as well as how our Baby-Friendly designation helps ensure a happy, healthy start for newborns and their mothers. 

Why is National Breastfeeding Month an important initiative? 

National Breastfeeding Month was declared by the US Breastfeeding Committee and it is one month of the year that is designated to remind us of all the health benefits of breastfeeding: for infants, their mothers – and society as a whole.

What are the benefits to breastfeeding?

The best-known benefit is the decrease in likelihood and severity of infectious diseases to the infant, such as lower respiratory tract infections, upper respiratory infections, otitis media and gastrointestinal infections. There is also a 36 percent decrease in sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, for babies who are breastfed.

Something we are starting to understand is the long-term advantages of breastfeeding – long after a mother stops breastfeeding. These include a decrease in asthma, atopic dermatitis, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and leukemia, which may be due to the changes in the microbiome of breastfed infants and the protective factors passed through the breastmilk.

In preterm infants, there is a decrease in sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis.

For mothers, the health benefits include decreased postpartum blood loss, increased childhood spacing, decreased postpartum depression, decreased type 2 diabetes (if the mother did not experience gestational diabetes), and a decrease in hypertension, hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular disease. 

What does it mean to be a Baby-Friendly hospital? 

Hospitals and birthing centers with a Baby-Friendly designation have been verified by an organization called Baby-Friendly USA, Inc. that holds them accountable to the highest standards for mother/baby care practices related to infant feeding. We are the only Baby-Friendly Hospital in Lexington.

There are ten steps that hospitals must show compliance in – steps to assure that the mother and baby are supported in their desire to breastfeed. Some of these steps include required education for all nurses and doctors, assuring that the baby and mother can go skin to skin after delivery, which is proven to help stabilize the baby and improve breastfeeding success. 

That being said, if a mother chooses to formula feed, that decision is respected. 

What unique features does UK HealthCare offer related to breastfeeding?

As the only Baby-Friendly Hospital in Lexington, we have more support from lactation consultants available to our patients. We also have a follow-up clinic where a pediatrician and lactation consultant will see mothers and their babies at the hospital follow-up for continued support. 

All of our pediatricians have been educated in lactation and work as a team with our lactation consultants.

Is it safe to breastfeed if I have COVID-19?

Yes. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published guidelines that encourage baby rooming in with the mother and breastfeeding if the mother has COVID-19 with mild or no symptoms. There have been no cases of transmission through breastmilk.

Is breastfeeding support available virtually through UK TeleCare?

Yes. We have a provider who offers telemedicine appointments with the baby and mother via Zoom. 

Should a mother ever avoid breastfeeding?

There are very few reasons to avoid breastfeeding, but they include a baby with galactosemia, or mothers with untreated brucellosis, HIV, or human T-cell lymphotrophic virus 1 or 2.

Mothers with active, untreated tuberculosis, active H1N1 influenza or varicella should not breastfeed directly but can express their milk for their infants. 

Where can mothers find additional breastfeeding support?

They can refer to the BestBeginnings app, Our Mommy and Me Breastfeeding Support Clinic, or websites such as Baby Friendly USA, the United States Breastfeeding Committee, the CDC, La Leche League, or their WIC provider or primary care provider.

How long should a mother breastfeed?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months along with introducing complementary foods for a year or more.

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for two years or longer. All of the benefits of breastfeeding are dose dependent, so the longer the duration, the more benefits.

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