Breast-feeding is thought to help in preventing allergies in babies, particularly a bad reaction to cow's milk. There is a great deal of controversy about how much difference breast-feeding makes, so the advice given here is based on the best evidence available at present.
On one point there is no doubt: the practice of giving "supplementary" or bottle feeds to newborn babies while in the hospital carries a risk of sensitizing them to cow's milk. Unfortunately, this practice is still routine in some hospitals, and the mother is usually unaware that the bottle feed has been given. Sometimes cow's milk is the first food a newborn baby receives.
What Is Your Hospital's Policy on Supplementary Feeds of Cow's Milk?
As early as possible in your pregnancy, find out about the policy on supplementary feeds in the hospital where you will give birth. Make it very clear to your doctor or midwife that you do not wish your baby to have anything but breast milk — no glucose water, formula, or pacifier. Ask whether you will be able to have your baby with you and feed him or her on demand — that way you will be able to ensure that your baby is not given a bottle or pacifier.
Feeding on demand is also far more conducive to establishing successful breast-feeding than is a system that is ruled by the clock. Putting the baby to the breast soon after birth, within four hours at most, is also important in establishing successful breast-feeding, and you should ask about hospital policy on this.
If the hospital does not allow rooming-in, then you should ask that a notice be put on the baby's crib stating that bottle feeds or pacifiers must not be given. Ask that your baby be brought to you often. Newborns need to nurse frequently — every two to three hours during the day and night. Many hospitals offer new mothers gift packs that contain formula samples or coupons. Lactation consultants recommend that breast-feeding mothers turn down these offers and trust that their body's own milk is their baby's best food.
Be Prepared to Insist on your Rights
Where there is a hospital policy of not putting babies to the breast during the night, breast milk can be "expressed" and stored, to be given from a bottle by a nurse. However, this is a somewhat unsatisfactory solution for the new-born baby, because it is easier to suck milk from a bottle than from a breast, so the baby learns to suck less hard. Since the intensity of sucking influences the amount of milk produced, a mother may begin to produce less milk under this system, and the baby may refuse the breast.
If your inquiries about feeding policy at the hospital are not being treated sympathetically, ask to speak to the head of the maternity unit. Be prepared to stick your neck out a little, if necessary, and insist on your rights.
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Reaching Out for Support During and After Pregnancy: Learning How to Breastfeed
As well as finding out about the hospital, you should learn as much as you can about breast-feeding before you give birth. Since breast-feeding is a natural process, it is often assumed that it "comes naturally." Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and many mothers give up because they have not been shown how to breast-feed properly, or because they have sore nipples, or as a result of other problems. These problems can be overcome, but nursing staff generally find it more convenient to fall back on bottle feeds.
The idea that some mothers "don't have enough milk" is a prevalent one, but the truth is that the supply is established by the demand — that is, by the frequency and intensity of feedings. If the breast-feeding relationship between mother and baby has been established properly, there is unlikely to be any problem with the amount of milk produced.
Sore nipples frequently occur because of incorrect positioning. If the baby is positioned properly, soreness is generally temporary and minor lasting only 5 to 15 seconds after the baby latches on. Other tips for preventing soreness include using only water to wash the breasts, before and after the birth, because soap and cleansers dry the skin. Allow air circulation around the nipples for as much time as possible: try going braless for a few hours a day and wear loose T-shirts. Let your nipples air-dry after feedings.
If you tend to have dry skin, you could also apply modified lanolin (available as Lansinoh) twice a day during the last month of pregnancy, and after every feeding once the baby arrives, to prevent soreness before it starts.
The best preparation for breast-feeding is to contact your local La Leche League leader during pregnancy and attend a few meetings. She can provide essential information on the best positions for nursing your baby, as well as moral support during those first challenging weeks.
Hay Fever and Maternity Hospitals
A final word on maternity hospitals: One study from Britain found that babies who spent the first night after birth with their mother (rather than in the hospital's communal nursery) were significantly less likely to suffer from hay fever as young adults. The exact cause of this effect is a mystery — careful analysis of the data showed that it was not explained simply by differences in breast-feeding. Perhaps it is due to the exposure to microbes that a newborn baby has when sleeping with its mother.
Whatever the explanation, the moral is clear: Try to find a hospital that will let you keep your baby with you day and night, right from the start. This has great benefits in establishing a good breast-feeding relationship as well.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Healing Arts Press.
This article was excerpted with permission from the book:
Hay Fever: The Complete Guide: Find Relief from Allergies to Pollens, Molds, Pets, Dust Mites, and more,
by Dr. Jonathon Brostoff & Linda Gamlin.
The authors explore all the issues of respiratory allergies, including the links between asthma and hay fever and the related issue of preventing allergies in children. They also discuss the role of food allergies and allergens and review the common myths surrounding them. The most effective treatments, both drug-based and homeopathic, are analyzed and weighed against one another. Helpful Appendices offer a summary of the causes, symptoms, and possible treatments for hay fever as well as various sources for further information.
About the Authors
Jonathan Brostoff, M.D., is Professor Emeritus of Allergy and Environmental Health at King's College in London and an internationally recognized authority on allergies.
Linda Gamlin was trained as a biochemist and worked in research for several years before turning to scientific writing. She specializes in writing about allergic diseases, the effects of diet and the environment on health, and psychosomatic medicine. Together they have coauthored Food Allergies and Food Intolerance and Asthma.