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Common Breastfeeding Questions: Tips From A Pediatrician

Breastfeeding can provide important nutrients and antibodies to infants.

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, a global celebration organized by the World Health Organization and Unicef that highlights the benefits of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding can provide important nutrients and antibodies to infants, which move from mother to baby through milk. But breastfeeding can be very difficult and strenuous for parents who just want to make sure their children are getting enough food.

Dr. Kelsey Ryan, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, is an expert on breastfeeding. She addresses common concerns and questions about breastfeeding:

What are some of the initial challenges new or expectant mothers might face when breastfeeding?

Ryan says it will never be as seamless as expected — it's work.

"Especially initially, when both mom and baby are learning this whole new way of going about their days and their nights, it's a big adjustment," she adds.

One of the most common issues Ryan encounters, is that the infant "doesn't seem like they know what they're doing." Babies don't know how to breastfeed right away, Ryan says, and need time to learn and adjust.

"One of the most valuable pieces of a successful breastfeeding relationship is patience," she says.

How do you know if your baby is getting enough nutrients?

According to Ryan, there are many pieces of information pediatricians use to understand that question —volume is not the only factor.

When going to a pediatrician, they will assess important indicators of nutritional status such as weight and the "number of wet diapers and poopy diapers." According to Ryan, this information helps indicate if the baby is taking enough in and if it's working its way through the baby's system.

"One of the most valuable pieces of a successful breastfeeding relationship is patience."

"One of the most important things that parents or caregivers can look for is that the baby is awake, alert, and interested in feeding," says Ryan. A baby who is always sleepy is of concern to Ryan, and something she would want to know about as a pediatrician.

If it seems your baby doesn't seem to be getting enough nutrients, Ryan says to first call your pediatrician. And second, try not to blame yourself.

"We all want the best for our children, and sometimes we need another set of eyes on the situation to give us other tools or new strategies for a way forward," she says.

What are the health benefits of formula milk vs. breast milk?

Formula milk nor breast milk can simply be categorized as better or worse, says Ryan. For example, one might be preferable to a family or medically necessary for the child.

"For the most part, this involves a lot of grey and a lot of choice on the part of the family in discussion with the pediatrician," Ryan says.

Breast milk, however, does provide some benefits that formula can't. Though there are some formulas suited to specific nutritional needs, breast milk transmits unique immunological information and evolves over time to meet the needs of the growing baby. 

"Overall," says Ryan "breast milk is able to provide a component of the mother's experience and reflects the intimate relationship between mom and baby in a way that formula, which is mass-produced, cannot mimic." 

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.