The earlier, the better
New mothers who breast-feed their infants nearly immediately after a child’s birth tend to breast-feed their children for a longer duration, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
A newborn infant is often alert and ready to eat, and breast-feeding a baby right away can improve a mother’s chances of success with breast-feeding, said registered nurse Wanda Respress, a lactation educator at St. Mary’s Hospital Center for Infant Feeding.
According to Respress, St. Mary’s already has implemented the five best practices for hospitals issued by the Colorado Health Department that have been shown to help mothers continue with breast-feeding.
The five hospital practices are:
• Breast-feeding an infant in the first hour after birth.
• Feeding the infant only breast milk in the hospital.
• Keeping the infant in the same room with the mother in the hospital.
• The infant does not use a pacifier in the hospital.
• Giving the mother a telephone number to call for help with breast-feeding after being discharged from the hospital.
“We have a high initiation rate for breast-feeding at St. Mary’s. It’s higher than the national average. But Colorado is short on duration,” Respress said. “Some of that is (society’s) pressures to quit breast-feeding.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics says it’s best to breast-feed a baby for at least a year, as breast-feeding aids health of both baby and mother. But many mothers quit breast-feeding before that time. Reasons for this may include mothers going back to work or not being able to produce enough milk or pump enough milk to feed their babies.
Two-thirds of all mothers who participated in all five of the best practices were still breast-feeding their children at 4 months, according to Dr. Marianne Neifert, a medical consultant and co-founder of The HealthONE Alliance Lactation Program in Denver.
Breast-feeding can reduce a mother’s risk for diseases such as type 2 diabetes, and children who are breast-fed enjoy a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity. Those children are also better protected against lower respiratory infections and gastroenteritis.
“Breast-feeding your baby is one of the first healthy lifestyle choices a mother makes on behalf of her child,” Neifert said.
Some obstacles to breast-feeding infants shortly after birth can even include the number of visitors a mother and baby receive at the hospital. Although family members and friends want to welcome the new child into the world, the first couple hours are also a crucial time for babies to connect with their mothers and breast-feed.
To that end, the hospital established two hours of quiet time each day for mother and baby to rest and for nurses to impart helpful information.
In years past, new mothers were often in the hospital from three to five days. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for new mothers to check in and out within 24 hours.
“We have very little time to teach them what they need to know before they go home,” Respress said. “Sometimes people have visitors all day long and there’s not enough time.”
Lactation nurses generally advise mothers that babies should gain a pound before they are given an artificial nipple, including a pacifier. Newborns expend numerous calories sucking on a pacifier and, unlike breast-feeding, they aren’t getting nutrition from a pacifier.
Breast-feeding classes are offered once a month by the hospital. A lactation nurse can make home visits four to five days after a baby is born, which is often a less stressful time for mothers to absorb information on breast-feeding.
“Our dream is to be called a baby-friendly hospital where formula is only used for medical purposes or if the mother chooses,” Respress said. “We really want to promote breast-feeding success.”