It's back-to-school time for many of us with children. Getting those kids off to a good start, however, begins long before locating that must-have backpack. A good start begins inside the womb and continues through infancy. Indeed the foundation for life-long physical, mental and relation health is laid during the 1st 1,000 days of life, beginning at conception and continuing through the first two years. One of the most important components to this first 1,000 days is breastfeeding!
All major health organizations including The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, all recommend that whenever possible, mothers breastfeed their babies. Research has shown that breastfed babies have a reduced risk of developing SIDS, childhood leukemia, asthma, ear infections and Type 2 diabetes. But why?
A mother's body is biologically designed to help nourish and strengthen her baby. The breast milk she produces includes hormones and antibodies that help to protect babies from illness.
Starting with colostrum—referred to as "liquid gold"—breast milk initially helps a baby's digestive system grow and function. It also delivers hormones and antibodies that help protect babies from illness. What is perhaps most amazing is that breast milk changes to meet a baby's ongoing needs. It contains a perfect balance of the fats, sugars, and proteins needed to help a baby grow.
It's important to recognize that while breastfeeding is natural and a practice embraced for centuries, it's not always easy. Some women can breastfeed their babies without any problems while others struggle. Moms may even face different challenges with each baby. They may have a smooth experience with their first little one but have difficulties nursing their second child.
Fortunately, there are resources that can help mothers who want to breastfeed achieve that goal. Our medical community is supportive of new moms and their efforts to breastfeed and can provide much-needed advice and connections to local resources. Families in our community are also fortunate to have access to lactation specialists—medical professionals specially trained to help new moms gain the skills and confidence they need to breastfeed whenever possible.
There are women, however, for whom breastfeeding is not an option—or who choose not to breastfeed for personal reasons. While we as healthcare professionals encourage breastfeeding when possible, there should never be any guilt around using formula. The most important thing is that babies are well-loved and well-fed.
There are excellent formulas widely available designed to provide the nutrition required to help babies thrive. Cow's milk formulas, many of which have additional iron added, are the most common. There are also soy formulas and specialty formulas for babies who have specific allergies or disorders.
I always recommend that new moms talk to their baby's pediatrician or family physician about what formula is best for their babies—and to always look for products that are FDA approved. "Homemade" formulas made from store-bought ingredients, such as powdered milk, should not be used. If family’s finances are tight, WIC and SNAP are just some of the options available to help ensure access to formula for families at every income level.
If you're pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor beforehand about how to give your little one the best start possible.
George Mulcaire-Jones, MD
SCL Health Medical Group - Butte