Studies have demonstrated considerable health benefits for mothers who breastfeed their babies for 12 months, and for their babies. As part of Atrium Health Navicent’s continuing commitment to improve community health for all, including mothers and their babies, physicians urge the community to support breastfeeding mothers and join in raising awareness during National Breastfeeding Awareness Month and Black Breastfeeding Week which is observed Aug. 25-31.
“It’s critical that expectant mothers receive breastfeeding education, and if they choose to nurse their infant that they’re supported,” said Dr. Felisha Kitchen, an Atrium Health Navicent OB-GYN and Atrium Health Navicent’s OB-GYN Residency Program director. “In addition to the substantial benefits for babies, mothers who breastfeed experience lower risk for hypertension and breast, ovarian and thyroid cancers. Breastfeeding also creates a strong bond between a mother and her baby.”
While more than 80 percent of non-Hispanic white mothers and Hispanic mothers breastfeed their babies, just 64 percent of Black mothers choose to nurse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black mothers are disproportionately more likely to suffer from chronic illness, stress, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, which are known risks associated with lower breastfeeding rates. Low-income mothers also have been shown to have less social support from family and friends, and less flexibility at work to support breastfeeding, according to the CDC.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new breastfeeding recommendations last year, which extended the prior guidance for breastfeeding duration from one year to two years and beyond. These recommendations align with guidelines provided by the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
“Human breast milk is the preferred nutrition for all infants – especially those born premature – and provides babies with a lower risk for ear infections and respiratory illnesses, and less of a chance of developing illnesses later in life such as childhood obesity, high cholesterol, allergies, diabetes and childhood cancers,” said Dr. Mitch Rodriguez, a neonatologist and medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Atrium Health Navicent Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital.
In Georgia, 82 percent of mothers initiate breastfeeding, but only 33 percent continue to breastfeed for 12 months, according to the CDC.
Rachel McInnis, an Atrium Health Navicent postpartum nurse and lactation consultant, is a mother of five and she knows well the stress and anxiety that comes with motherhood. Helping ease the concerns of new mothers is one of the reasons she was drawn to her career.
“It feels really special to get to be present in any way for a new family’s beginning, and I remember how precious an encouraging word or kind presence was for me when I had a new baby to take care of. Mamas and birth parents work so hard, and being able to be here for them makes this the best job ever,” she said. “I had all my babies at Atrium Health Navicent and the support I received there from the staff was so tender and real. But becoming a parent is a huge transition. Pregnancy comes with so many physical and emotional changes. Birth can be scary and painful, and postpartum can be a roller coaster of highs and lows, of joy and doubt and worry and exhaustion and total bliss.”
McInnis said the best first step parents can take is to educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the resources available at Atrium Health Navicent.
“We support breastfeeding parents in all aspects at the hospital. We teach several virtual classes for expecting parents. We visit parents at the bedside after they deliver their babies. We provide breast pumps and education to parents whose baby may be in the NNICU, and we answer questions via telephone or outpatient consultations after they are discharged,” McInnis said.
Here are some of the support services offered:
Atrium Health Navicent offers a Breastfeeding Basics class for expectant mothers. In this live virtual class, a registered nurse teaches tips and techniques to help mothers have a positive, successful breastfeeding journey. Class topics include how breastfeeding works, how to establish a good milk supply, how to help your baby latch, how to position your baby for breastfeeding and how to determine if your baby is getting enough milk. Resources for additional support will also be discussed.
McInnis said it’s critical to get educated before the baby comes on good positioning and how to make sure the baby is feeding well.
“We hear a lot of first-time birth parents say, ‘I don’t know what I am doing,’ and I get that. Even with my fifth baby I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know what I am doing. Someone please tell me all the right things to do.’ But your body knows. At a cellular level, your body’s intelligence and your baby’s body knows more than our minds do. Listen to your body, and try to bond with your baby even before delivery. Talk to your belly, and trust your body,” she said.
Breastfeeding mothers at the Atrium Health Navicent Family Birth Centers both in Macon and Milledgeville will receive a visit from our lactation specialists. They will provide mothers with basic breastfeeding information, answering questions and assistance in getting baby to the breast if needed. Nurses and lactation consultants are well versed in breastfeeding to help new moms through support, education and enrichment.
“When the baby comes, hold your baby — a lot. Create that skin-to-skin contact. Look at your baby. Talk to your baby. Sing to your baby. Move with your baby. Rest with your baby. Breastfeeding is about feeding, but also is relationship-building with birth parent and baby, and with the community who will show up to support them,” McInnis said.
Support After Hospitalization
Atrium Health Navicent offers a "warmline" to take calls or concerns about breastfeeding such as the use of medications while breastfeeding, pumping for return to work, milk supply issues and infant feeding problems. Call the warmline from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week at 478-633-2771 or 800-228-2055.
McInnis said new mothers shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help — medical or personal.
“Sleep deprivation, plus hormones, plus pain is a brutal combination and makes everything feel harder. So, sleep, eat, drink, shower, get sunshine, talk to friends and breathe. Take it one feeding at a time, and if it feels too overwhelming, you get to use the information you have and change your mind and make another choice,” she said. “A happily fed baby, and a happily nourished mother is the goal of parenting. I have heard moms say before that they failed at breastfeeding. Well, there is no possible way to fail and no one is grading this. And if they were you’d all get an A+ no matter the outcome,” she said.
Biggest Breastfeeding Hurdles for New Moms
If you choose to breastfeed your newborn, issues are bound to arise. But, with the right information and support, you can develop the breastfeeding techniques and strategies that work best for you and your baby.
Here are some common breastfeeding issues and strategies that may help:
1) It hurts to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. When a mother’s milk increases in volume three or four days postpartum, moms may notice sore and/or tender nipples. Since new babies feed every few hours, this discomfort may worsen quickly. If the cause of nipple pain isn’t addressed, some moms may even suffer cracked, bleeding or blistered nipples.
“Pain when breastfeeding usually comes from a latch that is suboptimal. A few adjustments can make it more comfortable for mom and baby,” McInnis said. “Breastfeeding should not be super painful. In fact, one of the hormones that regulates breastfeeding is oxytocin, which is a bliss hormone. Pain and stress with feeding could affect that hormone release. Lactation consultants can help support a good latch, which is more comfortable for the mom and makes it easier for the baby to transfer milk.”
Here are a few tips to combat painful feeding:
Check your baby’s latch.
Try different positions.
Keep your nipples clean and dry.
Apply coconut oil or ultra-pure lanolin ointment to your nipples.
2) The baby is not latching correctly.
At times, a newborn may struggle to find the right latch. This may occur for a variety of reasons, whether you both need more time to get coordinated, the baby was born prematurely, or you have flat or inverted nipples.
If any of these are true for you, here are a few things you can try:
Adjust your hold.
Make minor changes over time.
Use nipple shields.
Ask for support.
3) One area of my breast is super tender.
In some cases, a sensitive area in one of your breasts may indicate a plugged duct. While there are several reasons this may occur, the solution is the same — get milk flowing to the area. When feeding, try to position your baby so their chin points toward the tender spot and massage this section while the newborn feeds.
Apply heat between feedings. If tenderness persists, ask your doctor about ultrasound treatments. Plugged ducts that aren’t resolved, as well as cracked and damaged nipples, can sometimes turn into a breast infection called mastitis. Notify your doctor if you develop a fever or redness that’s spreading on your breasts.
4) There isn’t enough milk.
In the initial days postpartum, some mothers are concerned that they’re not making as much milk as expected. Oftentimes, this should not be a cause for alarm because hormonal changes that trigger a mother’s milk production take place slowly.
“A perceived lack of milk supply is the biggest concern birth parents have going into breastfeeding, especially first-time parents,” McInnis said. “We try to educate new parents on how breastfed newborns feed in the first few weeks: Their tummies are only the size of a cherry when they are first born! A day-old baby’s stomach size holds about a teaspoon of volume. Human babies are ‘designed’ to feed frequently and be held a lot.”
During the initial days postpartum, if your baby is losing more weight than expected, producing too few wet or dirty diapers or showing signs of dehydration, you may have a lack of milk supply.
To increase milk supply, you can:
Feed on demand instead of a scheduled feeding pattern.
Build your milk supply through pumping.
Get rest, eat well and accept help whenever possible with chores and other activities.
Seek help from a lactation consultant.
5) I’m making too much milk.
Sometimes, for the first few weeks of breastfeeding, you may see a temporary oversupply of milk. This usually resolves on its own. However, until then, your breasts may feel tender and painful, and you may be leaking a good deal of milk. You may also notice that your baby is coughing and/or spluttering with the force of your feed, spitting up post-feed or passing explosive, frothy and greenish poop.
If you’re concerned you’re overproducing, here are a few things you can try:
Release before feeding by using your hand to express a small amount of milk before each feed.
Let your baby control the flow.
Take it slow, allowing your baby to rest and digest your milk, both during and after each feed.
Use a towel or muslin cloth to soak feeding overflow.
For more information about breastfeeding services, call 478-633-2771 (Macon) or 478-776-4341 (Milledgeville). To find a doctor, visit www.NavicentHealth.org and click “Find A Doctor.”