August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. And while nursing is the most natural and usually the healthiest option for a newborn, most new mothers need some help getting started. "We spend lots of time helping moms and babies get that initial latch and breastfeeding establishment done while we're in the hospital" said Kendal Vaughn, a Lactation Consultant at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. "We also do appointments after [mother and baby] go home so they can come back and see us and we can check the [baby's] weight, check the latch, and kind of help mom's through their entire breastfeeding journey."
The “latch” that Vaughn is talking about is literally the way a baby latches on to a mother’s nipple. "Ideally you want a good, deep, asymmetrical latch. And that's where the baby has a good bit of tissue in their mouth. There's also what we call a shallow latch which is where baby is not on properly. So because the baby is sucking the mom thinks [the baby is feeding so] she doesn't want to take them off [the nipple]. But, in fact, if they do have a shallow latch they're not transferring milk as well and they're causing mom a lot of pain."
For many new moms, establishing that good, solid latch for the first time can be frustrating. Vaughn says "I can always tell when I walk into a room if a mom has done this before. The first time moms are very anxious. They feel like nothing's going right, they don't know what they're doing or how they're doing it or how to make it work. When I go into a room and the mom is like 'yeah I'm good' I'm like ' is this your first baby?' [and they say] 'no'. So once you get the hang of it, it's super easy, but it's just getting to that easy point can be very, very hard."
Over the years our knowledge of the benefits from nursing a newborn, to both the child and the mother, has continued to grow. Breastfeeding rates continue to rise in the United States. According to the latest numbers available from the centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011, 79 percent of newborn infants started to breastfeed. "But moms have to want to do it. As a Lactation Consultant a lot of times people think that we're against formula, or we look down on moms that use formula. We don't. We want to help that mom reach her goals."
Vaughn says that breast milk is worth the extra effort for a mother and her child. "It boosts [the baby's] immune system, it reduces the risk of ear infections, respiratory infections, G.I. infections, eczema, asthma, the list goes on. It's also beneficial for mom. It benefits by helping mom and baby bond. It helps reduce postpartum depression. It helps reduce SIDS. It's an endless list."
Kendal Vaughn says that while establishing the initial latch is the most common issue lactation consultants deal with, they do work with new moms on other issues. One is when a mother thinks she’s not producing enough milk. "But that's rarely the case. A baby's belly is only the size of a cherry when they are born, so they can only hold five to seven milliliters, they don't need a lot. As their belly grows over the next week and month, their mom's milk increases each day. So initially mom's don't see this huge amount of volume so they think that they have a milk supply issue. Although it can be a problem [for some new mothers], it's not as common as people think." Another issue is when moms think baby is not getting enough because they are ready to feed over and over again during the day. Vaughn says that's just the way it is and "If you are going to breastfeed, you have to go in knowing you are going to be up every two to three hours feeding around the clock. they're not going to sleep these long stretches for a while, probably up to three months."
Across the United States attitudes and laws about mothers nursing their babies in public have changed. Only one state, Idaho, has not passed a law making breastfeeding in public expressly legal. Florida law number 383.015 states “A mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.” However the law is sometimes either not understood or ignored. This summer a woman was first asked to cover up and eventually told to leave a restaurant in Boca Rotan while feeding her child. Vaughn says where a mother feeds her baby should be up to the mother. "I am more on the modest side, so I always used to use a cover [when I was nursing my children], but I would also nurse in my car a lot. that's just where I felt comfortable." But Vaughn says she and her husband never look at a mother nursing in public without a cover and go "Oh my gosh! It's normal to us because we've done it with three kids.
Vaughn also spoke out about the double standards in society about women's breasts. "Victoria's Secret can have these half naked models in their window and not one person complains about that. But you let a mom sit in front of that [window] and nurse and it's a big deal." She also tells moms to never breastfeed in a public bathroom, no matter how nicely you are asked.
Once a child starts nursing, Vaughn says they can live on breast milk exclusively for six months and recommends nursing for a full year if that’s possible. The bottom line is that although this is natural, a nursing mom needs support. "I do encourage moms to take a breastfeeding class before they deliver. I really see a huge difference in a mom that I'm helping when they have done the class versus when they have not done the class because there's so much information to learn (and) you retain it better while you are pregnant than when you're sleep deprived and you just had a baby and all of this other stuff is new. [Plus] it's always best to have your spouse or partner [go to the class] with you because they seem to retain things better than moms do." Vaughn also suggests new mothers participate in a support group "Wether it be your friends, your family, co-workers, a group on social media that you follow. Somebody to support you and that's something that we do here too. It's really a big deal to have support, because without support sometimes it's near impossible to do this by yourself."