What Every Physician Needs to Know About Breastfeeding

Report from the 18th Annual International Meeting of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine

[PHILADELPHIA]. Many physicians receive little or no training in breastfeeding, despite research showing strong health, education and emotional outcomes for babies who breastfeed during the first six months of their lives.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine aims to ensure that more physicians receive that training. A worldwide organization of physicians, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine is hosting its 18th Annual International Meeting in Philadelphia on November 21-24, 2013. Many attendees arrived early for a physician-led training outlining “What Every Physician Needs to Know About Breastfeeding. 

Here are some of the ideas raised:

  • Promote Skin-to-Skin Contact. Babies are born ready to interact with their mothers. Dr. Raylene Phillips of the Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital argued for a “sacred hour” of skin-to-skin contact after birth, placing a newborn on its mother’s chest through its first feeding. Every culture has ceremonies for special events considered sacred for that culture ­– the first hour after birth should be one of those sacred moments. Furthermore, skin-to-skin contact promotes strong attachments between mother and baby, extending the likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding.

  • Teach Breastfeeding Cues. Dr. Christina Smillie of Breastfeeding Resources asked physicians to help mothers advocate for skin-to-skin time, which helps a baby follow inborn instincts to find and attach to a mother’s breast. Babies often express feeding cues, such as squirming, head bobbing and eye contact, which help a mother know that her baby is hungry. Dr. Smillie noted that physicians can help a new mother interpret these cues and create a calm breastfeeding environment for both mother and baby.  Dr. Smillie also asked physicians to establish “baby time” after birth, prioritizing mother/baby attachment rather than hospital routines.

  • Do Not Introduce Formula Unless Medically Necessary. Dr. Ann Kellams of the University of Virginia Health System noted that if a baby uses formula even once, a baby’s gut flora changes and the likely duration of breastfeeding is shortened. Before introducing supplementary feeding, Dr. Kellams asked physicians to conduct a formal evaluation of the mother and baby, including a direct observation of breastfeeding. To ensure this process occurs across the hospital system, she asked attendees to form multidisciplinary teams to write a hospital infant feeding policy, which would establish a shared understanding of introducing formula only when medically necessary.

Attendees also discussed the medical benefits of breastfeeding, which include reduced diarrhea, pneumonia and ear infections for babies and reduced ovarian cancer risks for mother, among other benefits.

With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine is planning to expand this training to six locations, including Detroit; Jackson, Miss.; New Mexico, New Orleans, New York City and Philadelphia.

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