According to many medical authorities, including those with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, there are many reasons to breastfeed.
Topping the list is the fact that breast milk, with its near-perfect mix of vitamins, minerals and fat, provides everything that a baby needs to grow.
As supporters of breastfeeding observe Aug. 1-7 as World Breastfeeding Week, caregivers of infants and mothers at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital add their voices to the breastfeeding choir.
“Breast milk is not only optimal for the development of babies, it is essential,” says Tammy Welch, a lactation consultant at Moore Regional. “The properties that comprise human milk are specific from each mother to her own infant/infants. As an infant grows, a mother’s milk changes to meet that baby’s needs, even changing in composition as the baby ages. A mother’s milk is also special in the way it can change with each breastfeeding session and even the time of day.”
Numerous studies suggest the superiority of breast milk over formula, noting that breastfed babies are at lower risk for SIDS and are less likely to become overweight or to develop allergies, asthma, diabetes, ear infections and certain life-threatening illnesses. At Moore Regional Hospital, where breastfeeding is encouraged, 53 percent of mothers breastfeed exclusively while 81 percent support breastfeedings with some formula feedings.
While all newborns need the nutritional, immunological, physiological, and neurological benefits of breast milk, premature babies especially need those benefits. The milk produced by the mother of a premature baby has extra nutrients that help the baby grow as well as antibodies that protect immature immune systems from infections.
Breast milk is also easier than formula for preemies to digest.
Although most new mothers are able to breastfeed, some can’t produce enough milk and others lactate poorly due to reasons ranging from low blood glucose levels to excessive weight loss or maternal exhaustion.
Because maternal milk is so important to an infant’s growth and development and like most hospitals with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), Moore Regional has a donor milk program for premature infants. Unlike most of those hospitals, Moore Regional also has a donor milk program for all newborns.
According to lactation consultant Robin Clark, R.N., Moore Regional purchases pasteurized donor breast milk from a milk bank at Wake Med Hospital. The milk is shipped from Raleigh to Pinehurst on dry ice and placed in a freezer for breast milk only when it arrives.
“If a mother with a baby in the NICU does not have enough of her own breast milk to feed her baby, she will be offered donor breast milk,” says Clark. “After being informed about the benefits of donor milk, she will sign a consent form and the milk is fed to her infant. If a mother with an infant in the newborn nursery plans to exclusively breastfeed, but for some reason doesn’t have enough milk, she is offered donor breast milk for her baby as well.”
“Breast milk is equally important to both healthy term babies and our NICU babies,” says Welch.
According to Beth Hutchinson, R.N., administrative director of Women & Children’s Services at Moore Regional, problems with breastfeeding are often temporary but Moore Regional will provide donor milk for healthy or premature babies for as long they need it while they are in the hospital.
“We are pleased to offer donor milk to all babies at Moore Regional to support mothers who choose to exclusively breastfeed and, for some reason, cannot supply the amount needed themselves,” she says. “This is often a very temporary issue, and we are happy to supply the donor milk to bridge the gap until the mother is able to produce enough milk herself.”
Feature Photo: Tammy Welch (at left) and Robin Clark, R.N., are lactation consultants at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, which – unlike many hospitals – has a donor breast milk program for all newborns, not just for the premature infants in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.