WEST NYACK, N.Y. -- Despite having access to some of the world's best maternity care, many American mothers lag far behind the rest of the world when it comes to breastfeeding. Due in part to societal pressures and a lack of support, many mothers stop the important process just a few months into motherhood.
“In many other cultures, new mothers have an extended support network of family members who can help teach them about breastfeeding,” said Debra Gilhooly, a nurse practitioner at OBS-GYN of Rockland. “In the United States, women often don’t have that support when they go home. They may find breastfeeding difficult or painful, and if they don’t receive help, may just give up.”
There are many benefits of breastfeeding for both the baby and mother. “It’s the perfect food for the baby,” said Gilhooly. For instance, breast milk contains a mother’s antibodies, which can keep the baby healthy. While the recommendation that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months is ideal, babies can still benefit from breastfeeding for shorter amounts of time.
“Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s a learned response, and there are tips and tricks for making it easier,” said Gilhooly. “A class or a consultant can show a new mother how to position the baby and how to get the baby’s mouth open wide enough to latch on.”
When helping new mothers learn the finer points of breastfeeding, Gilhooly hears many questions or concerns. She answered several of the most common below:
Can I still breastfeed when I’m sick?
In most cases, it is safe, except for very serious illness. If you’re taking medication, check with your provider first to make sure it’s safe for the baby.
Can I drink alcohol while I’m breastfeeding?
There’s no real safe level of alcohol for a baby. However, if a woman wants an occasional drink, she should wait two to three hours after consuming alcohol before breastfeeding.
What should I eat while I’m breastfeeding?
You can increase your caloric intake by 400-500 calories a day while you’re breastfeeding. Eat plenty of protein, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Get plenty of fluids – at least 3 liters (12 cups) daily.
Is there anything I shouldn’t eat or drink aside from alcohol?
Avoid sugar drinks and limit caffeine intake. If you notice your baby is fussy after you eat a certain food – such as something gas-producing like broccoli or spicy food, try to stay away from that food for a couple of weeks and see if it makes a difference in the baby.
"All mothers should give breastfeeding a try," said Gilhooly. “It’s a great opportunity for the mother and baby to bond, and the more a woman knows about breastfeeding before she starts, the better. The ultimate goal is a healthy, happy mother and baby.”