August is World Breastfeeding Month, and this year's theme is "Sustaining Breastfeeding Together." We all play a role in supporting and encouraging breastfeeding mothers and babies. Here's how to help.
While breastfeeding is the natural way to nourish your baby, it isn't always easy. In the first few weeks after a baby's birth, mothers learn their baby's feeding cues, babies learn to latch on and properly feed, and mom's milk supply is established.
The support of family, friends, co-workers and the community is key to making the breastfeeding relationship a success.
Expectant mothers should learn as much as they can about the benefits of breastfeeding and how it affects a baby's health and development and protects you from certain types of cancer.
Ask your healthcare provider for information and sign up for a class at your local hospital. These steps help new mothers to make informed decisions about how to feed their babies.
At the hospital or birthing center, ask to have your newborn placed skin-to-skin with you immediately after birth. A lactation consultant or nurse can help you establish breastfeeding within that first hour. Throughout your hospital stay, the staff can answer questions and assist with positioning and latching on.
Lactation consultants are available to help even after you go home. Ask for a list of support groups and other resources in your area before you leave the hospital. Some pediatricians' offices have lactation consultants on staff to provide assistance.
At home, the breastfeeding mother's partner is essential to breastfeeding success. The spouse or partner can bathe and diaper the baby, do household chores and prepare meals. This lets mom focus on getting off to a good start with breastfeeding in the first few weeks. Other relatives and friends can help by caring for older children, delivering meals or running errands for the family.
At work, an employer's support can result in a happier, healthier employee, according to recent studies. State labor laws require workplaces to provide privacy and breaks for breastfeeding mothers to pump breast milk. Health insurance plans may cover the cost of a breast pump, as well.
Community support may include groups, such as La Leche League or mom get-togethers and groups of breastfeeding moms who connect via Facebook and other social media. Check with your lactation consultant for a list of resources in your area.
Mothers who breastfeed their babies in public spaces should be offered encouragement. Laws in all 50 states support breastfeeding anywhere infants are normally allowed.
Sustaining breastfeeding truly "takes a village." Working together, we can ensure healthier moms and babies around the world.
Wendy Nichols is a registered nurse and lactation consultant who is board certified by the International Board of Certified Lactation Consultants. She works at Memorial Health for Women.