Breastfeeding can be challenging, but help is available for new mothers. Lactation consultants, either at the hospital or through organizations like La Leche League, can help with learning the positions that work best mom and baby, and offer tips that can help with learning this new skill of breastfeeding.
While breastfeeding benefits for the baby are well-known, the mother also benefits.
"It's definitely a great healthy choice for moms to breastfeed," explains Rebekah Huppert, a lactation consultant and nurse at Mayo Clinic. "We know that with breastfeeding, we see a reduction in mom's risk for cancer, primarily breast and ovarian cancer; we see a reduced risk for diabetes; and a reduced risk for cardiovascular issues later in life. It can help reduce bleeding right after delivery by causing some contractions of the uterus. Evidence that shows that breastfeeding helps with weight loss, as well. It just takes a lot of calories to make breast milk, so we burn through those quickly when we're lactating. Those are just a few of the benefits, but they're big ones for moms."
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding of infants for the first six months of life before introducing nutritious complementary foods. The organization also encourages social and systemic changes to support mothers who choose to breastfeed.
This summer, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new recommendations supporting mothers to continue breastfeeding for two years or beyond. These recommendations align with guidelines provided by the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Huppert advises women to not feel undue pressure with these new guidelines.
"It's a sensitive topic for women, especially those who want to do more and find that their body isn't cooperating or sometimes their job isn't accommodating," says Huppert. "So it is important to make sure that moms know that there are multiple ways we nourish our babies. We nourish them by holding them, and by talking to them and reading to them. It isn't just food. And at the end of the day, maternal health — having a mom who is happy and healthy — is going to be the most important thing for a child's growth and development."
On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Ask the Mayo Mom host Dr. Angela Mattke, a Mayo Clinic pediatrician, is joined by Mayo Clinic Children’s Center lactation expert Rebekah Huppert to discuss practical approaches to breastfeeding.