• Emily Reul, PT, DPT

It's National Breastfeeding Month!

Updated: Aug 7

It’s world breastfeeding week and national breastfeeding month! Breastfeeding can be an exciting time as a new mother, but you’re also navigating a scary time taking care of a new baby and taking care of your postpartum body. Let’s talk about breastfeeding.


It is recommended to do exclusive breastfeeding (no other food/liquids aside from breast milk), for the first 6 months after a baby is born. It is also recommended to continue breastfeeding through the first year as new foods are being introduced, but you can breastfeed as long you would like. (ACOG)


So Why Breastfeed?

Breastfeeding can provide many benefits to your baby, as well as you as the mother. For your baby, breastfeeding decreases the risk of atopic dermatitis, gastroenteritis, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). ( ACOG) It has also been shown to lead to a higher IQ later in life for your child. (Westerfield, 2018)


Breast milk contains the nutrients your baby needs to grow and develop. As your baby grows, the breast milk changes to adapt to your baby’s needs. (ACOG). For your baby, breast milk can be easier to digest than formula. (ACOG) Breast milk contains antibodies that can help protect infants from certain illnesses. In general, the longer your baby breastfeeds, the greater than health benefits. (ACOG)


For you, breastfeeding has been shown to lead to a decreased risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, postpartum depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. (Westerfield 2018; ACOG) It may also make it easier to lose pregnancy weight and decrease the amount of bleeding after birth by stimulating the uterus to contract and return to its pre-pregnancy size. (ACOG)


While breastfeeding has great benefits for both you and your baby, there are a few things to keep in mind.


Breastfeeding will increase the amount of calories you need to eat each day. Your diet, as the mother, can impact what is in your breast milk. While the general composition will remain the same, things like vitamins A and D and thiamine can vary depending on your intake. (Ares Segura, 2016) A nutritionist of lactation consultant can help you develop and individualized plan to make sure you are getting adequate nutrition through your diet.


While you are breastfeeding, you bone mineral density (BMD) will decrease one to three percent per month, putting you at higher risk for injuries like stress fractures, especially if you are participating in high impact activities like running. (Edwards, 2019)

Breastfeeding can lead to raw, painful nipples and can even cause bleeding. There are many products available to ease symptoms, like lanolin gel or nipple guards. Don’t get discouraged.


You and your baby may also have a hard time getting a good latch. A lactation consultant can be a great resource to help!


While breastfeeding, milk ducts in the breast can become clogged. This can lead to pain and inflammation in the breast and ultimately cause a mother to stop breastfeeding. A trained physical therapist can help to alleviate symptoms from a clogged milk duct and prevent progression to mastitis or formation of a breast abscess. (Cooper, 2015)


Often with breastfeeding, you will hold your baby in a certain position for long periods of time while they feed. This commonly lead to neck, back, and shoulder pain. (Mbada, 2013) The joint laxity (or extra movement/elasticity) from pregnancy typically does not stop until breastfeeding stops. (Stephenson, 2000) A women’s health physical therapist can help alleviate any pain symptoms and help you to determine the most comfortable positions for breastfeeding for you and your baby.



There may be reasons that you cannot breast feed. You may have medical conditions, or you may need to resume a medication that prevents you from being able to safely breastfeed. Remember, deciding to breastfeed is YOUR decision, not anyone else’s. Don’t feel bad if breastfeeding is not right for you and your baby. One study found that 60% of mothers did not breastfeed their babies as long as they wanted. (Odom, 2013)


Have any questions about breastfeeding? Talk with your healthcare provider to develop an individualized plan that fits both you and your baby.


So what next?


What experiences do you have with breastfeeding? Please join the conversation in the comments section below.  

By Emily Reul, PT, DPT

References

1. Westerfield KL, Koenig K, Oh R. Breastfeeding: common questions and answers. Am Fam Physician. 2018 Sep 15;98(6):368-373.

2. https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/labor-delivery-and-postpartum-care/breastfeeding-your-baby

3. Stephenson RG OCL. Obstetric and Gynecologic Care in Physical Therapy. 2nd ed. Thorofare, NJ: SLACK, Incorporated; 2000.

4. Edwards KM, Green B. Go Ahead, Stop and Pee: Running During Pregnancy and Postpartum. America First Printing; 2019.

5. Ares Segura S, Arena Ansótegui J, Díaz-Gómez NM; en representación del Comité de Lactancia Materna de la Asociación Española de Pediatría. La importancia de la nutrición materna durante la lactancia, ¿necesitan las madres lactantes suplementos nutricionales? [The importance of maternal nutrition during breastfeeding: Do breastfeeding mothers need nutritional supplements?]. An Pediatr (Barc). 2016;84(6):347.e1-347.e3477. doi:10.1016/j.anpedi.2015.07.024

6. Mbada CE et al. Is baby-friendly breastfeeding mother-friendly? J Womens Health Phys Therap. 2013;37(1):19-28.

7. Odom EC, Li R, Scanlon KS, Perrine CG, Grummer-Strawn L. Reasons for earlier than desired cessation of breastfeeding. Pediatrics. 2013;131(3):e726-e732. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-1295

8. Cooper BB, Kowalsky D. Physical therapy intervention for treatment of blocked milk ducts in lactating women. J Womens Health Phys Therap. 2015;39(3):115-126.


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This information is for awareness purposes and not individual medical advice. You should seek your own professional counsel for any medical condition or before starting or altering any exercise or fitness program.

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