Lactation is an ancient adaptation perhaps 300 million years old. Each species of mammal has its own variety of milk and even each mother has its own variety. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life, with continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond, is recognized as the “gold” standard for infant feeding because milk Breastfeeding is particularly suitable for the human infant, and its nutritional content and bioactivity promotes healthy development.
Although research shows the positive benefits of breastfeeding, it doesn’t always come easily. AT UConn HealthMarisa Merlo, lactation consultant, offers support to families and babies in learning to breastfeed.
Breast milk has endless benefits and research shows it is the best source of nutrition for all babies, but especially those born prematurely. Breast milk can benefit a baby’s overall survival, healthy growth and development, and immunity.
Merlo works with parents and their individual breastfeeding goals. “It’s not always all or nothing,” says Merlo. “Every family has their specific situation to make breastfeeding work for them and I’m here to help achieve their goals.”
Courtney Chandler and her husband welcomed their first child, Theo, two weeks earlier at exactly 8 pounds at UConn John Dempsey Hospital.
Theo took the breast immediately and there were no breastfeeding problems in the hospital. Merlo helped them and they thought they were doing everything right.
Theo weighed 7 pounds and 1 ounce when he left the hospital, which is typical for a baby who loses some weight after birth with the aim of regaining his birth weight in two weeks. During his first pediatrician appointment, Theo was not on track to meet his two-week birthweight goal.
At that time, Chandler contacted Merlo who sees outpatients to help mothers gain confidence, give them advice and help them feed their babies effectively.
Merlo started meeting Chandler and Theo weekly. When they first met, they did what is called a weighted feed where the baby is weighed before and after the feed to see if there is any milk transfer.
Merlo quickly diagnosed the problem that Theo was a “sleepy” feeder. While latching on, he was not actively transferring milk. She provided helpful tips and different methods, such as changing breasts, hand expressions, and tickling him to keep him awake.
“I almost wanted to quit,” Chandler said. “It was disheartening and incredibly stressful to know that my newborn baby was losing weight and not getting enough breast milk. Luckily Marisa quickly identified the problem and encouraged me to keep trying.
After a week of using these tips, Theo was still not gaining enough weight and Merlo advised that they needed to put him on an aggressive plan to get him back to his birth weight, including pumping, breast feeding and giving. baby bottles.
Merlo helps patients learn how to use a breast pump in the hospital and can help obtain a breast pump through insurance or UConn Health’s Breast Pump Donation Program.
With the new plan in place, they turned a corner and Theo started gaining over an ounce a day.
By the next visit from the pediatrician, he had reached his birth weight and was gaining steadily.
“Marisa knew how much I wanted to breastfeed my baby,” Chandler said. “She gave me the perfect plan that helped Theo exceed his weight goals and helped me improve my own skills. It was hard work, but when Theo finally hit 8lbs, we were all in celebrating. The work was worth it.”
“Theo continues to gain weight, thrive, and reap the benefits of my breast milk, which is important to me during COVID and the upcoming cold and flu season,” Chandler continues.
Merlo has been a registered nurse for 18 years and her entire nursing career has been dedicated to mothers and babies. She spent several years as a staff nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and became a lactation consultant and a member of the International Board of Lactation Consultants.
“I saw a need, having struggled with personal experience with my three babies and knowing the science behind breast milk and that the NICU babies I cared for needed and deserved breast milk,” Merlo says. . “I realized I could do more to help struggling mothers.”
A lactation consultant can determine if any adjustments are needed and help you address any concerns about how breastfeeding is going. It’s important to have support when breastfeeding questions or issues arise, and a lactation consultant is the ideal person to call in those cases.
“Every postpartum patient who wants to breastfeed should have access to lactation support,” Chandler said. “Breastfeeding is incredibly difficult and doesn’t come as naturally or easily as people say.”
Merlo also teaches monthly prenatal breastfeeding class, which are currently held online and cover topics such as breastfeeding for mother and baby; how breast milk is made; how a supply is established and maintained; positioning for breastfeeding; power signals; teaching effective locking; how to determine if the baby’s nutritional needs are being met and if feedings are going well; go back to work; pumping and bottle feeding; and more. This class can help mothers feel more comfortable with breastfeeding before the baby is born.
Learn more about the breastfeeding and lactation services at UConn Health.