By Elizabeth Reifsnider

National Breastfeeding Week, Aug. 1-7, offers a great opportunity to remind ourselves that breastfeeding is the best way to nourish infants and provide them with a head start in life.

Here are some of the many benefits of breastfeeding, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
• Breastfeeding protects babies from illness.
• Breastfed babies have fewer allergies.
• Breastfed babies have fewer dental cavities.
• It is thought that breastfeeding may protect babies from becoming obese as young children.

Some research has also shown that breastfed babies have a higher IQ than bottle-fed babies.

Breastfeeding also provides benefits to mothers. Women who breastfeed their children have lower risks for breast and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding can also save time for mothers, as there are no bottles to prepare or worries about having enough formula on hand.

Many women want to breastfeed their babies but are concerned when their babies are newborn if they are feeding their babies enough for them to grow. Babies who are breastfed soon after birth, and are breastfed more often, have more frequent bowel movements. This in turn promotes weight gain. Recent research by Linda Shrago of Mercy Health Center in Oklahoma City, and my work at the UTMB School of Nursing show that the more bowel movements babies have the first five days of life, the less weight they lose and the sooner they regain their birth weight. Babies usually lose some weight soon after birth and need to regain that weight within two weeks.

Babies with more bowel movements are usually heavier at 2 weeks of age than are babies who had fewer bowel movements per day. In the study, babies who regained their birth weight within one week had an average of five bowel movements per day. Breastfeeding mothers who want reassurance that their babies are gaining enough weight to grow and thrive can count bowel movements each day.

Research by Sara Gill at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio and here at UTMB on the support needed by breastfeeding mothers when they go home shows that frequent support for breastfeeding moms can make a difference.

One important thing a new mom can do to make breastfeeding work is to avoid introducing a bottle to her baby until the baby is 3 or 4 weeks old. It’s important for the new baby to become an “expert” at breastfeeding. When a bottle is given before 3 weeks of age, the baby may learn to prefer the bottle nipple. Bottle-feeding can also reduce the mother’s milk supply, as the mother’s body makes more milk when milk is removed through breastfeeding. If the baby is fed formula, the mother will make less milk for the baby and a cycle is initiated where the mother makes less and less milk and eventually weans the baby.

Here are some important ways to help make breastfeeding succeed:
• Give new moms help at home.
• Make sure new moms breastfeed new babies frequently.
• Have new moms count dirty diapers until a count of five is reached each day.
• Discourage new moms from giving new babies anything from a bottle until the baby is at least three weeks old.
• New moms might call an experienced breastfeeding mom or knowledgeable health care professionals for advice.

New moms with questions about breastfeeding may call UTMB’s Newborn Nursery at (409) 772-3350. For information about breastfeeding on the Web, visit the La Leche League International of Houston Web site at http://www.ykc.com/LLLHouston/.

Elizabeth Reifsnider, Ph.D., is professor and associate dean for research and the Constance Brewer Koomey Professor in Nursing at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston School of Nursing.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.