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Published on May 03, 2013

Breastfeeding is Best: Why Human Milk is ‘Liquid Gold’ for Newborns

 

SIOUX FALLS (May 1, 2013) – Because it’s clearly the best food for newborns, experts strongly recommend breastfeeding – especially for preemies or babies born with health issues.

“A growing body of medical literature indicates that breast is best,” said Dr. Katherine Wang, neonatologist at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center, and a new mom. “Breast milk is like medicine that no one else can replicate. We treat it like liquid gold. We encourage breastfeeding whenever possible, whether the baby is premature and sick, or full term and healthy.”

Human breast milk is so beneficial that in 2012, Avera McKennan became the first hospital in South Dakota to offer donor breast milk. Donor milk is made possible when a nursing mother anywhere in the country donates breast milk and sends it to a (HMBANA) Human Milk Banking Association of North America certified milk bank.  All donor milk is pooled, pasteurized and tested to ensure it is safe for infants.  Donor milk from a HMBANA milk bank is offered to mothers of NICU infants at Avera McKennan in situations where the mother is establishing her breast milk supply, or has difficulty establishing or maintaining her milk supply.

“Donors are rigorously screened, and the milk is tested and completely safe,” said Kelli Fagerness, RN, Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant, at Avera McKennan. There is no charge to the family for the donor milk while the baby is a NICU patient.  Parents have the option of purchasing it on their own from a HMBANA bank after discharge.

Breastfeeding has many benefits, including convenience and lower cost. Breastfeeding moms experience a reduced cancer risk, and may lose pregnancy weight faster. But the greatest benefit is the health of the baby.

Research shows that human milk contains a unique and powerful combination of nutrients important for infant health. Mother’s milk supports growth and development, and boosts the baby’s ability to fight infection. It is easy to digest and can promote overall health of the baby’s digestive system. “NICU babies on breast milk grow faster, are more likely to reach developmental milestones at the appropriate times, and are discharged from the hospital sooner,” Fagerness added.

Breastfed babies typically experience fewer ear infections and respiratory infections, including colds and viruses. “Studies also point to possible benefits in neurodevelopment,” Dr. Wang said.

Preterm babies are at risk for a disease known as NEC – necrotizing enterocolitis. This infection and inflammation of the bowel affects only about 1 to 5 percent of NICU babies, yet it’s very serious. “If babies get it, the mortality is as high as 50 percent,” Dr. Wang said. Breast milk reduces the chance of NEC by 79 percent. “If there’s anything we can do to prevent it, we take that opportunity.”

Studies are still being conducted on whether or not pasteurized breast milk still contains all the immunity and infection-fighting benefits offered by fresh breast milk straight from the mother provides, Dr. Wang said. But donated breast milk is the next best thing, because it’s easier to digest and tolerate than formula.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about six months, and then continuation of breastfeeding for one year or longer.

Due to her medical training, Dr. Wang said she was committed to breastfeeding herself as a new mom. “Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s easy,” Dr. Wang said. “It can be frustrating until you work with your baby and get the mechanics down.”

She advises finding helpful resources, such as a lactation consultant, peer group, support group or just a friend or family member who has experience with breastfeeding. “You need someone you can call anytime of the day, because sometimes things are their worst at 2 a.m. when it’s just the two of you, your baby won’t latch on and you’re at your wit’s end.”

Some breastfeeding moms fear their babies are not taking in enough milk. It’s often reassuring to bring your baby in before breastfeeding, and have the baby weighed before and after the feeding. Also, if the baby has plenty of wet diapers, you can be assured that he or she is getting adequate milk. It’s not unusual for breastfed babies to have fewer dirty diapers than formula-fed infants.

Dr. Wang advises new moms to realize that breastfeeding and pumping is a learning process. “Keep working through it, and reach out if it’s not going well. Once both you and your baby get the hang of it, it’s really fun and a great bonding experience with your baby,” Dr. Wang said.

To learn more about pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, go to AveraWomens.org. To learn more about donor breast milk, call the Avera McKennan Lactation Consultants at 605-322-4490.