Most ob/gyns are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and the risks of not doing so. However, many do not appreciate the significant role that they play in supporting their patients’ breastfeeding efforts. Ob/gyns who are aware of some commonly held myths and who are familiar with strategies for breastfeeding can play a crucial role in a new mother’s breastfeeding success.
Myth #1: Breastfeeding and formula feeding are essentially equivalent.
Reality #1: Breastfeeding has significant benefits to both infants and mothers that are not matched by formula.
An abundance of scientific evidence confirms that breastfeeding conveys health advantages to both infants and mothers. Formula-fed infants have a higher incidence of both short-term illness and adverse health outcomes later in life. These adverse effects include, but are not limited to, an increased risk of gastroenteritis (necrotizing enterocolitis), lower respiratory infections, otitis media, and asthma when compared to breastfed infants.1 Formula-fed infants are more likely to experience sudden infant death, childhood leukemias, type I and type II diabetes, and obesity compared to those who are breastfed.1 Mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes, and maternal cardiovascular disease. Breastfeeding also uses additional calories, which can assist in postpartum weight reduction.1-3 Breastfeeding costs less for families than does bottle-feeding, and the healthcare cost to society also is reduced.4,5
Strategies for the obstetrician: Information about breastfeeding as the preferred method of infant feeding should be presented at every opportunity, from preconception care through postnatal visits. To encourage conversation, it is helpful to use positively framed, open-ended questions such as: “Are you planning to breastfeed?” or “What have you heard about breastfeeding?” Ideally, this discussion occurs when the father, partner, or other support person is present.
If the expectant mother indicates she is not planning to breastfeed, the physician should respectfully explore her reasoning and provide supportive information addressing any misperceptions.