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Health & Exercise Forum

Breastfeeding Benefits both Mom and Baby

Aug 15, 2016
Kathryn Swatkowski, CNM

Kathryn Swatkowski, CNM

TCMC Guest Author: Kathryn N Swatkowski, CNM

TCMC Medical Guest Author: Kathryn N. Swatkowski, CNM has been a Certified Nurse Midwife for 20 years, taking care of women throughout their life-span from adolescence through menopause. She is a clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at The Commonwealth Medical College.

This column is a special feature the third Monday of every month of Health & Exercise Forum in cooperation with The Commonwealth Medical College.


August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month

 Expectant mothers typically do all they can to ensure their baby’s health. A wholesome diet, regular exercise and avoiding harmful habits like smoking are all important things a woman should do during pregnancy. However, there is something additional mothers can do AFTER their child’s birth that can be equally, if not more, important and has been around as long as human life itself… breastfeed! While far from new, it is has been rediscovered for it tremendous benefits and gaining popularity.

Breastfeeding has innumerable benefits for mother and child. For example, nursing your baby right after birth helps solidify the bond between you and your baby. Moreover, the health benefits to baby begin right away. That’s because your breasts produce colostrum beginning during pregnancy and continuing through the early days of breastfeeding. Colostrum precedes breast milk and has plenty of antibodies to help keep your baby healthy. Colostrum is extremely easy to digest, and is therefore the perfect first food for your baby. Also, as the La Leche League (LLL) tells new mothers, “Colostrum has a laxative effect on the baby, helping him pass his early stools, which aids in the excretion of excess bilirubin and helps prevent jaundice.” Jaundice is common in newborns and is usually treated by placing the baby under special lights. LLL also points out that the concentration of immune factors is much higher in colostrum than in mature milk, which comes in after about two weeks.

The positive effects continue for both mother and baby as the child grows from newborn to infant. Breast-fed babies are, for example, are less prone to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), an unexplained death of a healthy infant while sleeping. The peak incidence of SIDS occurs when a baby is about three months old. It is an unspeakable tragedy that affects entire families. While we must be very clear that breastfeeding is not a guarantee against SIDS, newer studies have shown that infants who were never breastfed may have two to three times the risk of dying of SIDS. Although the actual mechanism is unknown, some theories are that breastfeeding may provide defense against SIDS because it lowers a baby’s risk of infection through antibodies passed on by mom or because human milk is ideally equipped to nurture human brains -- and the brain controls sleep cycles.

Additional Benefits for Baby:

  • Breastfed babies experience less illness, allergies and ear infections than formula-fed babies. The protective effect of mom’s antibodies keeps baby healthier.
  • Studies show breast-fed babies do not grow up to be obese children. Breastfeeding is one way to combat the obesity epidemic and all the ills that come with it, like diabetes, high blood pressure and even certain cancers.

Additional Benefits for Mom:

  • Breastfeeding saves money! You don’t have to buy formula.
  • Weight control: Experts say breastfeeding burns an extra 300-500 calories a day.
  • Protection against breast cancer: According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, “Research shows mothers who breastfeed lower their risk of pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer. And, breastfeeding longer than the recommended six months can provide additional protection.”
  • Lower risk of post-partum depression: Nursing triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin. Numerous studies in animals and humans have found that oxytocin promotes nurturing and relaxation. One study found that women who had high amounts of oxytocin in their system (50 percent of breastfeeding moms as opposed to 8 percent of bottle-feeding moms) had lower blood pressure after being asked to talk about a stressful personal problem.

Are there ever reasons why either mother or baby should not breastfeed? While extremely unusual, there are contraindications for breastfeeding. Mothers who must take certain medicines may be unable to nurse. There are also some conditions in newborns – some treatable – that may limit or prevent breastfeeding. Your physician (obstetrician/gynecologist or pediatrician) or midwife should be consulted before you take any medications, vitamins or herbals.

Finally, new parents are frequently worried about their breast-fed babies because they can’t “see” how much nutrition their child is getting. A good rule of thumb is that a breast-fed baby will have a wet or dirty diaper as many times a day as he or she is days old. For example, one wet/dirty diaper the first day of life, two the second, and so forth for about a week. After that first week, look for six to eight wet diapers daily and a bowel movement about once a day.

It is recommended that you exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first six months and continue for at least the first year. After that, it’s up to you. It’s also important to know that every baby is a unique individual. Don’t become alarmed if your child doesn’t seem to adhere to what the textbooks say. Instead, turn for support to some reliable and trustworthy: your physician, midwife and the La Leche League.

SOURCE: Le Leche League is an international nonprofit organization that distributes information on and promotes breastfeeding.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquiries related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.