​Summer 2015

What's Up in Family Medicine

Nourishing Babies, Supporting Mothers

Having a baby is a life-altering experience for a family. As mother and baby’s primary care provider, family doctors are key to promoting and supporting families on this incredible journey – and this includes helping mother and baby enjoy successful breastfeeding.

The benefits of breastfeeding are many – babies receive necessary nutrients, it promotes healthy brain development and decreases rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), digestive diseases such as Crohn’s and colitis, and obesity. It helps mother and baby bond, and decreases the mother’s risk of post-partum depression, breast and ovarian cancers and osteoporosis.
Although women’s bodies were designed to breastfeed, the process does not always come easily. Problems can occur for both new mothers and women already experienced with breastfeeding. Issues can range from a baby not latching, to breast pain, to infections such as mastitis and thrush.
“When breastfeeding isn’t going well, the experience can be extremely stressful for the mother and baby – and they need immediate medical attention,” says Dr. Lisa Graves, a family physician in Ancaster, Ont.  

“Family doctors sometimes forget that they are well placed to help new mothers manage feeding because they look after both the mother and baby on an on-going basis.”

Physicians may be hesitant to address breastfeeding problems, preferring to refer mothers to a lactation consultant or to public health, because they don’t feel they have the specialized knowledge or enough time in a clinic visit to fully address the issue. Resources are available.
Breastfeeding is an emotional experience for mothers and family physicians can provide vital support to women who decide not to  breastfeed, helping to manage expectations and advising on transitioning baby to bottle-feeding.

“Sometimes it may not be possible to fix a breastfeeding issue in one visit or the problem may be more complex and require a referral to a lactation consultant or a specialist,” acknowledges Graves. Family physicians  she adds, must have the confidence to support breastfeeding and also be able to apply their broader understanding and develop a differential diagnosis that can facilitate an easier transfer of care.

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