Breastfeeding gives all babies a better chance at a healthy start in life. And, it’s the healthiest and lowest cost way to feed a newborn. The very best gift you can give your newborn baby is to breastfeed right after giving birth and for at least the first six months.

Better for baby

Research proves that breastfeeding protects children against multiple illnesses and diseases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months, then adding solids while continuing to breastfeed during the first year. “Exclusively” means the baby receives nothing but breastmilk – no other liquids or solids except for vitamins or medicines.

Breastfed children have:

  • Lower risk of ear infections, severe lower respiratory infections and leukemia
  • Less constipation or diarrhea and less stomach upsets because it is easier to digest
  • Fewer doctor visits and fewer infections
  • Reduced risk of hospitalization in the first year of life
  • Lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Better brain growth
  • Better face and mouth development and growth
  • Life-long health benefit of lower risks for chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, asthma and other allergic diseases
  • Lower risk of being overweight or obese as a child
  • Perfect food because breast milk changes to meet the baby’s needs as he or she grows
  • All-important chance to bond with mother that enhances a child’s development throughout life

Experts note that any amount of time breastfeeding, even if it’s only a few weeks, is better for baby and mom than no breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is very important for infants born prematurely, especially to avoid stomach problems and establish successful feeding.

Better for moms

Breastfeeding is better for mothers because:

  • It lowers the chance of postpartum bleeding
  • It helps the uterus return more quickly to pre-pregnancy status
  • Most moms say it helps them more quickly return to their pre-pregnancy weight
  • Moms will have fewer doctor visits; lower health care costs
  • It lowers the life-time risk of breast and ovarian cancers, osteoporosis and hip fracture
  • New mothers appreciate the convenience of breastfeeding on demand over buying, preparing, heating, storing and cleaning formula bottles and following a feeding schedule

Less expensive

Families appreciate that breastfeeding is less expensive than buying formula and bottles. American families could save $10.5 billion each year if 80 percent of mothers breastfed exclusively for six months. These savings would come from avoiding direct medical costs, indirect costs such as wages lost while a parent cares for a sick child and the cost of premature death.

Get started right:

  • Start breastfeeding within the first hour after birth. Your bare skin touching baby’s bare skin is best for the first hour. Ask the nurses for help getting started.
  • Get comfortable before you start. Use pillows under the baby, lay baby on his or her side with your tummies touching. Baby should not have to turn his or her head to breastfeed.
  • Breastfeed every one to three hours during the day and at least every four hours at night. Let baby feed as long as he or she wants.
  • You will hear or see baby swallow when the milk is flowing well. Baby’s lips on your breast should curl out, not in.
  • The first milk is thick, either yellow or clear and full of important nutrition that baby needs in the first few days. It also helps baby pass dark poop.
  • Do not offer bottles or pacifiers for the first few weeks – they make it harder to breastfeed.
  • Baby is ready to breastfeed when he or she starts squirming; becomes more alert; sucks on tongue, lips or fingers; opens mouth when lips are touched; “roots” or searches for nipple; or makes small sounds. Baby should breastfeed eight to 12 times a day. The more you breast-feed, the more milk you will make.
  • Baby is full when he or she falls off your breast, falls asleep, or relaxes body and opens fists.

Free help

It is important for new moms to be patient with themselves as they get started with breastfeeding for the first time. Every new mom will have questions and an occasional frustration. When this happens, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. Another resource is the statewide Arkansas Breastfeeding Help Line. It is free and available to pregnant women, breastfeeding moms and health care providers. It’s available 24 hours, seven days a week and the statewide toll-free number is 800-445-6175 or call 1-844-344-0408. Sponsored by Baptist Health and the Arkansas Department of Health, registered nurse lactation consultants staff the line. They provide support and accurate information about common breastfeeding concerns, such as how to tell if the baby is getting enough milk, if medications are safe to take while breastfeeding, managing breast or nipple pain or using a breast pump.

Call your baby’s doctor if:

  • Baby does not get back to birth weight by two weeks of age
  • Has less than six wet diapers a day by one week of age
  • Poops less than three times a day by third day of life
  • Does not wake up to breastfeed at least eight times a day
  • Falls asleep or stops breastfeeding immediately after latching onto the breast

Start early

Women often make the decision to breastfeed before conception or early in pregnancy. Every mother needs education about breastfeeding so she can make informed choices about her own and the baby’s health. This process begins with her doctor, office nurses and staff. It continues with her choice of a breastfeeding-friendly hospital for delivery and throughout her hospital stay.

In the first weeks after mother and baby return home, every nursing mother needs the support of her spouse, family, friends, her workplace and the wider community to help her be successful in starting and continuing breastfeeding.

Arkansas needs improvement

Breastfeeding is one of the nine focus areas identified by The Healthy Active Arkansas initiative to reduce the state’s very high obesity rate. Breastfed babies tend to have fewer problems with being overweight throughout their lives. Moms who breastfeed tend to lose their pregnancy weight faster than those who don’t breastfeed.

If you have a choice of hospitals in which to have your baby, look for a hospital that is helping to improve breastfeeding rates by offering these breastfeeding-friendly features:

  • Free childbirth, breastfeeding and newborn classes
  • Contact with lactation consultants during hospital tours and pre-registration
  • Mother and family views “The Magical Hour” (a video illustrating nine stages a baby goes through when held skin-to-skin during the first hour after birth) as part of breastfeeding education (this is recommended by the AAP)
  • Immediate skin-to-skin contact for healthy newborns for at least one hour after birth
  • Helping mothers start breastfeeding within one hour of giving birth
  • Complete rooming-in for healthy newborns so baby can breastfeed on demand
  • Daily rounds by a lactation consultant to show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain their breast milk, even if separated from their infants
  • No formula given to newborns; no formula bags sent home with new mothers
  • No pacifiers or artificial nipples for breastfeeding infants
  • Post-discharge breastfeeding support that includes phone calls, follow-up visit and referral to community breastfeeding support
  • Hospital-based breastfeeding support groups
  • Hospital adoption of a comprehensive written breastfeeding policy
  • Comprehensive, continuing and required staff education about breastfeeding, including annual testing and skill competencies

Work and community friendly

Arkansas law (Act 621) requires employers to provide unpaid break time to express breast milk. Employers must make reasonable efforts to provide a private, secure and sanitary room, close to the work area where an employee can express breast milk. Women who breastfeed their child in a public place are protected from interference by Act 680.

In addition to workplace rights, many retail and commercial establishments now provide comfortable places for their patrons to breastfeed.