World Breastfeeding Awareness Week takes place annually during the first week of August, aiming to promote and encourage breastfeeding. It's a natural way to nourish infants and a unique bonding experience that offers a range of health advantages for mothers.
Mandy Lindberg, a lactation specialist with the Birth and Beyond Support Group at Loma Linda University Health, highlights some of the benefits of breastfeeding.
"Breastfeeding helps protect mothers against ovarian and breast cancer while reducing the risk of heart disease," said Lindberg. "Additionally, every time a mother breastfeeds, her body releases oxytocin, often referred to as the "love hormone," which fosters a strong emotional bond with the baby and promotes better sleep."
One intriguing aspect of breastfeeding is that moms share antibodies with their babies, which helps them develop a robust immune system and protects them from illness. Lindberg explains that when a baby latches onto the breast, their saliva contains vital information about their environment.
"The mother's body takes note of this information and starts producing specific antibodies tailored to the baby's needs, functioning like a personalized mini-vaccine to support the baby's health during their current stage of development," said Lindberg.
Breastfeeding requires more than just the physical act of feeding; it demands a strong support system to help mothers navigate various challenges and make informed decisions. Support groups like Birth and Beyond are essential in providing emotional and practical assistance, answering questions, and offering guidance through the breastfeeding journey. It provides a safe space for mothers to connect with others who share similar experiences. This diverse community offers invaluable insights and encourages one another on their breastfeeding journey, helping overcome challenges and building lasting friendships.
"It's 10% mechanical and 90% support," said Lindberg, emphasizing that having a sound support system leads to more successful breastfeeding. This includes help with daily tasks like preparing meals, changing the baby's clothes, and managing household chores, allowing the mother to focus on breastfeeding.
"As a support group, we are here to stand beside and provide assistance in this journey. We are that friend, sister, or auntie, filling the void society may have left behind in terms of breastfeeding support,” she says. “While we don't prescribe medications, we can offer advice. If a baby spits up after feedings but is otherwise meeting developmental milestones, gaining weight, and producing enough wet and dirty diapers, it is considered normal. However, if a baby is projectile vomiting or lethargic, then we say you need to go to the emergency department."
Breastfeeding is an ongoing process that requires time, patience, and support. When asked about common concerns, Lindberg addressed the fear of not producing enough milk. She stressed that many factors contribute to this perception and urged new moms to trust their bodies.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for approximately six months after childbirth. Following this period, the AAP encourages continuing breastfeeding while introducing appropriate complementary foods around six months of age. The AAP supports this breastfeeding approach as long as the mother and child desire, even beyond two years.
As Breastfeeding Awareness Week continues, Lindberg and the Birth and Beyond Support Group are committed to promoting the benefits of breastfeeding and supporting mothers on their journey. By raising awareness and fostering supportive communities, they aim to empower more women to embrace breastfeeding and enjoy its numerous advantages for both mother and child.
Birth and Beyond lactation specialists are available for new mothers seeking support or information to provide guidance and resources. Whether a mother chooses to exclusively breastfeed or combine breastfeeding with other feeding methods, the primary focus is providing the best care and support for the mother and baby's well-being.