Benefits of Breastfeeding and Skin to Skin Care
Pam Tozier, RN
According to the CDC, one of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant is to breastfeed.
However, in the United States, although most mothers hope to breastfeed, and 79% of babies start out being breastfed, only 19% are exclusively breastfed 6 months later.
Women stop breastfeeding for many reasons, some out of their control.
Through the support of others, including health care providers, friends, families and employers, some of these reasons can be avoided.
Additionally, hospitals participating in rooming-in and promoting skin to skin care help parents create a bond with their newborns that also has a positive impact on the health of their baby.
Pam Tozier (Guest): Okay, great. Thanks for having me, Melanie. Breastfeeding is one of the most important things that a parent can do to ensure overall health for their baby. Right off the top, the incidence of ear infections and asthma and allergies and pneumonia and diarrhea all go way down. And in addition, obesity and diabetes rates fall way down when babies are breastfed. There’s also evidence to support that the incidents of SIDS is decreased. I could go on and on, but there are many wonderful reasons to breastfeed, for sure.
Melanie: Does it just come naturally? Is it instinctual, like people say? Or is it something you actually have to learn and kind of get good at?
Pam: I think that’s a great question, because for some babies and mamas, it is instinctual and it just happens pretty effortlessly. For other moms, it really does take a while to maneuver through the different variants, ways to go with breastfeeding, especially babies that might have had a rougher delivery, more medication on board, that kind of thing. In those circumstances, the lactation consultants are right up front with the moms, trying to support them and help them navigate this journey of getting breastfeeding off to the best start possible.
Melanie: Let’s discuss some of the challenges, because by putting those out of the way, we can make this really a more natural and easygoing thing for new mothers. Some others are afraid that it’s painful. Is it painful?
Pam: It shouldn’t be painful. Sometimes it’s a little sensitive to get going, but with the proper latch, good positioning going on, we get away from that sense that it has to be painful. We want to correct it so that it’s not painful, so the baby has good milk transfer. One of the most important ways to get breastfeeding off to a good start is a lot of skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby. That is magic. And a lot of new parents might have heard that it’s good as soon as the baby is born, but we like to continue the skin-to-skin throughout the entire hospital stay because that has been proven to really help take some of the challenges away from difficult breastfeeding and help these babies and moms be more successful.
Melanie: What do you mean by skin-to-skin care?
Pam: Skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo care, we pretty much use those phrases interchangeably. Bottom line, it means that we take a baby with just a diaper on and put that baby on the mom’s bare chest. No clothes on, no T-shirt, no blanket, no johnny, nothing, but skin touching skin. Because there is a very unique transfer of many good things that happens when you put a baby back into his or her natural habitat. You think about it, a baby lives his or her entire life in amniotic fluid, in close quarters, hearing the mama’s heartbeat, smelling all the smells—believe it or not, their sense of smell is highly developed when they’re first born. Newborns have instincts. When we put a baby skin-to-skin with her mama early on in the baby’s life, those instincts kick into high gear. They are programmed to search for the breast. The whole breast area smells just like the amniotic fluid that they’re used to. If we don’t interfere with doing things and putting the baby other places and putting a lot of blankets around the baby, the baby is in the natural environment where all the good things can kick into high gear and we can support this baby to find the breast. We can help with the good latch, and the baby is more alert to what he or she needs to do right off the bat.
Melanie: That’s wonderful information. Now, what about getting the spouse involved? If you put the baby up against the spouse’s chest and skin-to-skin, does that have any effect on that baby, or can you get the spouse involved at all?
Pam: Yes. Every single day I’m getting the partners involved, and it’s a wonderful thing to see. Sometimes I get little smirks or embarrassed, like, “I don’t really know if I want to do that.” As soon as I say to them, “Let me tell you a little bit about why this is really good for you to help.” I start off by saying, “You can’t give the breast milk,” and they chuckle, but I said, “You can give the friendly skin immunity that you have all over you. And if you folks living together, bringing a baby into that environment, you’re already immunized against a lot of things. The skin being an organ can pick up that immunity. Even though you can’t provide breast milk, as the other involved parent, you can do a lot of good.” And I talk about babies crying a lot less. They’ve done some great studies on dads holding babies skin-to-skin and how much less those babies cry later on. The only real thing that the dads can’t do that a mom can do better is produce warm milk in the breastfeeding sense of success. But also, the mama has great hormonal ability to increase her body temperature, even a couple of degrees, very quickly if that baby is cold. When the dads are holding the baby, they don’t have that unique ability to increase their body temperature or decrease their body temperature depending on what the baby needs. They just have the tendency maybe to overheat the baby a little bit. But other than that, it’s a wonderful thing for both parents to be involved in.
Melanie: How long should feedings really be, and how often does a woman need to breastfeed?
Pam: We like to take our cues from the baby. To make a baby do something is really not the best thing in the beginning. We want to nurture the baby’s own biological rhythm. In the beginning, some babies will latch very quickly. Other babies take a little while. If the baby is a nice, healthy, full-term baby, we don’t like to watch the clock. We like to do what we call baby-led latching or baby’s feeding cues. We encourage our moms and dads not to look at the clock but to go by the baby’s cues. Now, having said that, if baby is a little on the premature side or the weight is really low or the baby has other issues that we’re watching, then we would want the baby to get some kind of breastfeeding or colostrum or breast milk eating within every three hours or so.
Melanie: In just the last few minutes, Pam, if you would, give us really your very best advice for women who are thinking about breastfeeding or just beginning breastfeeding so that they are most successful and able to give their baby all the benefits that breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact can give.
Pam: Well, I would say to them first and foremost that we want to support where they’re coming from, but we ask them to give breastfeeding a chance even if though they were leaning towards not breastfeeding. Let’s start with skin-to-skin. Until you do that, until you hold your newborn child close skin-to-skin, it’s hard to understand why that would be so great. A lot of instincts from the mother kicking to high gear, too, when the baby is skin-to-skin. Any breastfeeding is better than no breastfeeding, but the reason to really consider going breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding is because of the major benefits for your baby’s growth and development over the years, not just while the baby is little, but over that baby’s life span. There are so many wonderful things related. If a mom is really not sure she wants to do that, you can always bring in a breast pump and do some of that, putting breast milk in a bottle. Breastfeeding at the breast is definitely the best way, but if a mom has got some concerns about that, I encourage her to meet with a lactation consultant ahead of time. And we do that here at Maine Medical Center a lot. We have our moms come in ahead and we talk to them one on one about what breastfeeding means to them, how we might be able to help, how we can maybe help them just a little bit if they don’t want to do it too much but how to make them as successful and reach their goals as we possibly can.
Melanie: Thank you so much for such great information. You are listening to MMC Radio. For more information, you can go to mainemedicalcenter.org. That’s mainemedicalcenter.org, mmc.org. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.