By Alana Salcido, registered nurse and lactation consultant at CHOC Children’s
If you were to ask me back in nursing school what kind of nurse I wanted to be, I guarantee I never would have said I wanted to become a lactation consultant. I honestly didn’t even know this was a specialty at that time. Helping other moms succeed with breastfeeding is my way of giving back and my way of changing the world, one couple at a time.
Breast milk is constantly changing
A mother’s milk is constantly changing. Her milk will actually change from feeding to feeding, day to day, month to month as her baby grows. For example, the first milk, known as colostrum, is rich in components that prevent and protect the newborn from common and potentially serious infections. Breastfeeding not only provides exceptional nutrition but it also promotes lifelong health benefits.
Benefits of breastfeeding: preventing disease
Breastfeeding is the most economical solution to the biggest threat against children’s health worldwide: malnutrition and preventable diseases. In developing countries, human milk can mean the difference between life or death in children under five because a mother’s milk provides necessary nourishment for babies.
Breast milk-fed infants have significantly lower rates of illness—even in industrialized countries. The longer a mother breastfeeds, the more infection fighting antibodies are passed to her infant through her milk. Just as the womb protected and nourished the developing child during pregnancy, the body was preparing to protect and nourish her baby after birth by stimulating milk production as early as 12-14 weeks gestation.
Lifelong benefits of breastfeeding
Research has shown that babies who receive breast milk have a lower risk of hypertension, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, allergies, cancer, asthma, intestinal and respiratory infections, and obesity both during childhood and adulthood. Health benefits occur not only for the baby, but for the mother as well. Breastfeeding helps reduce the maternal risks of diseases such as hypertension, type II diabetes, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, breast cancer, and even Alzheimer’s Disease. Research has shown that the health benefits, for both mom and baby, are dose dependent. This means that the longer a woman breastfeeds the greater the health benefits she and her baby receive. Because of this, the WHO (World Health Organization) recommends breast milk in a child’s diet for the first two years of life (with the addition of appropriate complimentary solid foods beginning at 6 months of age).
Lactation consultants can help mothers provide the benefits of breastfeeding
Some mothers who wish to breastfeed their babies face challenges. Statistically, 75 percent of moms in the U.S. start out breastfeeding. By the time babies are six months old, only 44 percent are breastfed.
CHOC Children’s has a team of registered nurses who are international board-certified lactation consultants. We work closely with medical teams to provide support to mothers who need assistance in producing lifesaving breast milk for children. We can also help them achieve their lactation goals which may be different for each mother and could include pumping milk for the first six months, or it might be to exclusively breastfeed until the baby is a year old. We want every child at CHOC to receive optimal nutrition. For the newborn, infant and young child, we support breastfeeding and breast milk use. We firmly believe it when we tell our families that breast milk Is medicine.
For more on CHOC’s clinical nutrition program