Breast is best. It’s a phrase expectant and new mothers hear
constantly, from obstetric gynecologists, pediatricians, mommy blogs and news
organizations covering the latest infant nutrition-related research.
For newborns, breastfeeding helps decrease
the risk of respiratory tract infections, gastroenteritis, asthma and
inflammatory bowel disease; for mothers, it promotes bonding with the baby,
helps with weight loss and reduces the mom’s risk for developing breast cancer,
ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Recent research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine even discussed the importance of breastfeeding and the cost of health care,
stating that if the majority of women followed the recommended breastfeeding
guidelines, billions in health care dollars could be saved by reducing the
mother’s risk of developing cancer, diabetes and heart complications.
It’s certainly something I, and other mothers I know, took
to heart. As an expectant new mom, I
read as much literature as I could on successful breastfeeding technique. I didn’t allow any formula into my home (to
guard against moments of sleep-deprived weakness) and, after delivering my
daughter, I fed her as quickly as the doctors and nurses allowed me to,
believing successful breastfeeding was predicated upon establishing an early,
successful latch. I was lucky – my daughter was born voraciously hungry and
even the nurses admired her appetite, claiming most newborns liked to, well, sleep, after delivery.
It came as a surprise when, four days after her birth, the
same day my milk finally came in and the day of her first doctor’s visit, our pediatrician in no short order diagnosed
our daughter with jaundice, shoved a small bottle of formula in her mouth, and declared my daughter “very hungry,
indeed.” What followed was a schedule of hospital visits, blood tests, and
formula supplementation that interrupted our healing and left me blaming the
entire field of biology for our predicament.
was something of a revelation, then, to have Dr. Michael Moritz’s, clinical director, Pediatric Nephrology, at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, editorial
in the July 13 edition of Archives of
Disease in Childhood come across my desk. His editorial, “Preventing
breastfeeding-associated hypernatraemia: an argument for supplemental feeding”
tackles the complications sometimes associated with breastfeeding, arguing
“addressing and resolving these issues is a necessary part of making
According to Dr. Moritz’s editorial, one of the most serious
complications of breastfeeding is neonatal
hypernatraemic dehydration, a condition which results from insufficient
lactation (when a new mom’s milk is delayed coming in or when she isn’t making
enough milk). If left untreated, this
condition, which causes elevated sodium levels in an infants’ blood, can cause
severe short-term problems, such as seizures, coma or, in extreme cases, even
lead to infant death.
Less that forty-eight hours passed from our daughter’s clean
bill of health at the hospital and our discharge to her first pediatrician’s
appointment. In that short period of
time, her skin started to turn slightly yellow and she didn’t have the “soaking
wet” diapers all of my breast feeding books and websites recommended. Oddly for
me, though, I didn’t worry, because those same books and websites claimed my
body was making exactly the right amount of food my baby needed, that her tiny
body wasn’t equipped to handle more than the teaspoon here or there of colostrum
it was receiving before my milk came in.
According to Dr. Moritz, first-time mothers sometimes
produce less milk during their newborn’s first week than they will in subsequent
pregnancies, and their milk can often be delayed coming in. In my case, it took
three and a half days after my daughter’s delivery for my milk to arrive. While lactation support and education can
assist with breastfeeding issues like latch difficulties and inadequate feeding
frequency, they can’t always help overcome milk production issues, and while
bottle supplementation raises concerns about whether or not a baby will learn
to properly breastfeed, if infants become too dehydrated they may not be able
to do so at all once the milk supply does come in.
It turns out my daughter’s rapid weight loss in the hospital
could have been a warning symptom of hypernatraemic dehydration. Other symptoms of this condition include
decreased stool frequency and low urine output, but these symptoms can be
common in healthy babies as well. Dr. Moritz admits the warning signs are
“We need further studies to determine when and how
supplemental feeding should be offered, and to what extent they could prevent
issues requiring re-hospitalization,” Dr. Moritz said. “While it can be argued
that bottle feeding interferes with breastfeeding, if we apply supplemental
feeding carefully, and only when medically indicated, it actually could promote
successful breastfeeding, since women might be less likely to abandon it if
Despite my best intentions, my daughter required two weeks
of formula supplementation on top of breastfeeding, as well as daily visits to
the hospital for blood tests to make sure her health improved. I worried about
“nipple confusion,” or the possibility that she would come to prefer the faster
delivery of formula from a bottle over nursing, but neither of those scenarios happened
and she and I were able to nurse successfully for many months. In the end, formula supplementation got us
both to a healthy place, and I was grateful for it.
This is the first in an occasional series examining pregnancy from the viewpoint of an expectant mom. Courtney McCrimmon is a Manager in the Media Relations department at UPMC.
Labels: breast feeding, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, pregnancy