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Guest column, Maria Bramhall: Why breastfeeding is so important
Maria Bramhall
Maria Bramhall

As you prepare for the arrival of your little bundle of joy, you are often asked the big question: Are you going to breastfeed or bottle feed? 

In the United States, bottle-feeding is typically viewed as the “normal” way to feed babies. There is also a belief that bigger babies are healthier. As a result, we tend to formula feed more than breastfeed. There are a few more reasons for this trend that I’d like to share:

The American culture views breasts as sexual objects. Sad but true. The nurturing function of breasts has been downplayed. This perception can make women feel uncomfortable to breastfeed in public because they are fearful of being stigmatized. For many women, the feeling of embarrassment is one of the main reasons for choosing formula supplements or giving up breastfeeding altogether.

Breastfeeding can hurt at first. I’m the lucky mother of three wonderful boys. Despite working in health care and attending breastfeeding classes beforehand, I experienced sore nipples and an infection of the breasts with my first baby. It was painful to breastfeed, but I knew that I could endure the pain in order to provide my baby with the most natural nutrition he needed. Believe me, it would have been easier to tell myself, “well, at least I tried,” but I was quite determined, and it was worth it.

It’s not always easy to pump and work! I get it, especially because I was going back to work and pumping and storing milk. I know it can be a challenge. However, good news on that front! If you do decide to breastfeed and you’re a working mother, the state of Georgia requires that any employer with 50 or more employees must provide a clean place for mothers to pump as well as provide the time to do so — without deducting it from their work time! Wonderful! 

Current state of breastfeeding

In the state of Georgia, 50-60% of moms breastfeed. I personally reached out to one of the lactation consultants from Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville, and she reported that exclusive breastfeeding in the hospital is only 32%. It was even more shocking to know from the nutrition service director for the Women, Infants and Children program, that approximately 20% of babies are exclusively breastfed at 6 months and probably only 15% at 1 year. 

Based on what I discovered from the lactation consultant and nutrition director from WIC, women will attempt to breastfeed but will give up in the first two weeks due to the baby having difficulty latching on, and the uncertainty if the baby is getting enough milk. Other problems include sore nipples, engorged breasts and painful infection of the breasts. 

Advantages of breastmilk

Breastmilk provides unique nutritional and non-nutritional benefits to the infant and mother. Breastmilk contains antibodies that will protect the baby’s stomach as well as reduce inflammation in the stomach lining. It’s easily digested and optimizes infant, child and adult health, child growth and development. 

Did you know that breastfeeding reduces respiratory and ear infections, stomach infections including inflammatory bowel disease, allergic disease, celiac disease, childhood leukemia and lymphoma? By breastfeeding our children, we can help prevent obesity and diabetes in future generations. Most important of all, breastfeeding reduces sudden infant death syndrome and infant mortality. 

These important benefits were the reason why I did not give up easily when I had problems with my first baby. 

Now, let’s talk about all the benefits for mom!

Breastfeeding decreases postpartum blood loss, postpartum depression, may be used as contraception and can help moms lose baby weight gain. Breastfeeding for a total of 12-23 months reduces hypertension, hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as breast and ovarian cancer in the mother. Nowadays with the pandemic, it has been recently released that breastmilk has antibodies against COVID-19 in vaccinated mothers. 

There are so many resources to help you overcome barriers to breastfeeding, here are few:

  • Support groups like Brest of Friends and breastfeeding classes online and in person. Visit www.nghs.com/lactation-center for more information.
  • If you like to listen to podcasts, “All About Breastfeeding” is free and I found it helpful. 
  • Contact NGMC to find a lactation consultant near you by calling 770-219-7574 or visit our website at nghs.com/childbirth-education-classes
  • Women, Infants, and Children has breastfeeding information and support at no charge, visit www.fns.usda.gov/wic/about-wic. 

Nearly 4 million infants are born in the United States each year. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about six months, with continuation of breastfeeding for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant. 

My hope is that after reading this article, you will experience the wonderful mother-baby bonding that results from breastfeeding and view infant feeding as a basic health need. 

Enjoy this special time! 

Maria Bramhall is a part of the family medicine resident program at Northeast Georgia Health System. Columns publish monthly from residents in the program.

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