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September 8, 2011

SIU Med School Lactation Consultant Says Breast-Feeding is Best

New parents always want to give their babies the very best.  “When it comes to nutrition, the best first food for babies is breast milk,” says Erin Paris, registered dietitian and lactation consultant at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield.  “Breast-fed babies are healthier and have fewer infections than formula-fed babies.”

The benefits of breast-feeding for babies extend beyond basic nutrition.  Breast-feeding not only contains all the vitamins and minerals babies need in the first six months of life, but breast milk also is filled with disease-fighting substances that protect babies from many illnesses.

“Breast-fed babies are less likely to have gastrointestinal illnesses and upper respiratory and ear infections,” says Paris.  “Breast-feeding protects against diseases and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, obesity and some types of cancer, which may occur later in life.  Breast-feeding also promotes better bonding between mother and baby.  And, according to several research studies, I.Q. scores were higher in children that were exclusively breast-fed.”

Paris says some moms choose to feed their babies formula because it seems easier at the time, but she points out that breast milk is tailor-made for each baby.  “It is the right temperature and has the correct amount of hydration, which adds to its convenience.  And, it’s always clean and pure,” she adds.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be fed breast milk exclusively for the first four to six months of life.  Some pediatricians recommend introducing baby cereals at four months of age, while others advise exclusive breast-feeding for six months to reduce the risk of allergies, then continue breast-feeding through the first year until babies have tripled their weight.

Paris says breast-feeding also has important benefits for mother.  It decreases her risk for ovarian and breast cancer.  It also results in a better recovery and faster return to pre-pregnancy weight, because women burn extra calories producing milk for the baby. 

Paris recommends that moms should aim for a gradual weight loss.  “The amount and speed of weight loss varies individually and depends on the mother’s food choices, activity level and metabolism.  Most women can safely lose 1.5 pounds a week by combining a healthy diet with moderate exercise,” she explains. 

Paris encourages all new mothers to try breast-feeding their babies.  “Some mothers are concerned that it will be unsuccessful and others have difficulty at first,” she says.  She encourages her patients to try breast feeding.  She says that the first week is the hardest, but after the first month, it gets easier.  Mothers who are having difficulty breast-feeding or getting their baby to nurse should consult a lactation consultant, who can help with techniques and positioning so the baby can nurse properly.

“About 75 percent of new mothers try to breastfeed, but they usually don’t continue for the recommended six months,” Paris says.  Many women choose to bottle-feed because they have to return to work.  Paris encourages moms to pump and give the baby a bottle of breast milk rather than formula.  When returning to work, mothers are advised to check with their employees to arrange pumping accommodations, so they can continue providing breast milk to their baby.

New mothers can learn more about breast-feeding by talking with their family physician or obstetrician.  Most hospitals have a lactation counselor or offer breast-feeding classes to help new mothers.  Mothers also can contact the National Breast-feeding Help Line at 800-994-9662 or check online at womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding or the LaLeche League International at www.llli.org. 

Paris joined SIU in 2003.  She earned her master’s degree in addiction counseling at Governor’s State University in University Park (2002) and bachelor’s in dietetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2001).

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