Benefits of Probiotics Found in Breastmilk

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about the importance of probiotics, and specifically the probiotics found in breastmilk. But what exactly are they, and what benefit do they serve us and our children?

laughing baby playing with motherimage credit

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria that live in our gut and benefit us in various ways. Humans carry around about ten times as many bacterial cells as there are actual cells in our bodies, and most of them live in the digestive tract. They help digest food, absorb minerals and other nutrients, and help with synthesizing vitamins. Probiotic therapy is being used to treat a range disorders including irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, yeast infections, asthma, allergies, and other inflammatory responses.

According to the Harvard website: “An estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel. These microorganisms (or microflora) generally don’t make us sick; most are helpful. Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.”

Where do they come from?

Babies are actually not born with any of this beneficial bacteria in their intestines, but they quickly become colonized with exposure. Babies born via vaginal delivery tend to have more beneficial bacteria (which they get from their mother as they travel through the  birth canal), and so do babies that are breastfed. Probiotics are found in breast milk, and due to the growing body of research showing their benefits, they are also being added to infant formula.

You can also get your probiotics in supplement form or better yet, by eating fermented foods like yogurt, fermented cabbage and fermented soy products. Certain foods called prebiotics are also helpful in rejuvenating your body’s colony of flourishing intestinal flora, by feeding the probiotics that live inside you. These foods include oats, bananas, berries, greens such as kale, chard, leeks, asparagus, whole grains, almonds, flax, onions, and honey.

How probiotics benefit your baby

Breastmilk contains the probiotic lactobacillus reuteri (l. reuteri) which is passed from mother to baby.  Studies have show that the consumption of probiotics by children and infants may:

  • shorten bouts of diarrhea and acute viral gastroenteritis
  • lessen side effects of antibiotics
  • reduce the severity of symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
  • significantly reduce colic in newborns
  • promote oral health by killing streptoccocus mutants which cause tooth decay
  • avoid skin problems such as eczema
  • avoid or delay the onset of asthma
  • contribute to the development and functioning of baby’s immune system
  • lessen doctor visits, fewer sick days, and better overall health

A  nursing mother who consumes probiotics and prebiotics is not only benefiting herself, she is also passing along the beneficial bacteria to her baby.

The Breastfeeding-Cosleeping-Postpartum Depression Connection

These days, it’s rare to find anyone who’s gonna argue with you that breastfeeding is best for baby, whenever possible.  What they don’t realize is that breastfeeding is best for MOM, too.  And there are still plenty of people with their fists up, ready to knock down any mention of co-sleeping, despite all the benefits that co-sleeping moms and babies report (that is, I’m sure the babies would report, if they could speak!)!

So I was intrigued to read Nancy Mohrbacher‘s blog entry, Formula Supplements Put Mothers at Risk, which explains a number of reasons that breasfeeding and cosleeping are best for mom as well as baby.

Many moms are mistakenly informed that if they bottle feed and let someone else help with night feedings, they will sleep better and longer. Some people also believe that if mom sleeps separate from her baby, she will sleep better, undisturbed.  They conclude that a well-rested mother will be better equipped to hand the stresses of the post-partum period, thus relieving symptoms of postpartum depression.

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Not so, says a new study!

This study, which will appear in the June issue of the journal Clinical Lactation, surveyed 6410 mothers during the first year after birth.  Although all new mothers experience fatigue, it found that exclusively breastfeeding mothers not only slept significantly more hours during the night than other mothers but also reported significantly more energy during the day, a better mood, better overall health, and a greater sense of well-being.  Another surprising finding was that there was no statistically significant difference in any of these areas between the mixed-feed and the exclusively formula-feeding groups. (From Formula Supplements Put Mothers at Risk)

So while we all want to make sure new mothers, especially those at-risk for PPD, are happy and well-rested, strategies that separate and supplement newborns are misguided.  Instead of making mom’s life easier, they actually put her at greater risk of poor sleeping, poor health, and depression.

These benefits are in addition to many others! Breast milk builds your baby’s immune system, improves his brain function and raises IQ, reduces mom’s risk of cancers and other health conditions, helps her loose her pregnancy weight faster, and provides emotional comfort and bonding for both mothers and babies… among others!

Read more on the benefits of breastfeeding at nancymohrbacher.com.

The Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding

Nursing your baby provides many opportunities for bonding, and the benefits for mom and baby extend into the toddler years. But how can you silence the critics who exclaim, “You’re still nursing?”

Q. I’m still nursing my two-year-old daughter. We both love the bond created by breastfeeding, and neither of us is ready to give it up. However, most of my friends and family strongly think it’s time to wean her. How can I cope with the disapproval?

Dr. William Sears answers this question on Parenting.com. In spite of today’s health-conscious, natural-is-better attitude, people still find it odd to breastfeed a baby beyond the “infant” stage.  But Dr. Sears is on this mom’s side, saying, “If it’s working for you and your child, and your mothering instinct tells you it’s right  — it’s right! In my opinion, you’re a health-savvy, modern mom, and it seems that your friends and relatives are old-fashioned and misinformed. As a pediatrician and parent, it grieves me to hear well-meaning critics ask a breastfeeding mother, “You’re still nursing?”

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photo: Breastfeeding Moms Unite

Extended breastfeeding is indeed a wise, long-term investment in your child’s future. Here are a few things to remember when discussing this issue:

Science backs Breastfeeding. Many medical journals carry articles proving the long-term health benefits of breastfeeding. The incidence of many illnesses, both childhood and adult, are lowered by breastfeeding, including diabetes, heart disease, and central nervous system degenerative disorders (such as multiple sclerosis). The most fascinating studies show that the longer and more frequently a mom nurses her baby, the smarter her child is likely to become. The brain grows more during the first two years of life than any other time, nearly tripling in size from birth to two years of age. During this crucial time of brain development, the “smart fats” unique to mom’s breast milk (namely, omega-3 fatty acid, also known as DHA) seem to provide an intellectual advantage for breastfed babies.

Babies who breastfeed for extended periods of time are healthier overall.  These other health benefits include:

  • Leaner bodies with less risk of obesity.
  • Improved vision, since the eye is similar to the brain in regards to nervous tissue.
  • Better hearing due to a lower incidence of ear infections.
  • Their dental health is generally good, since the natural sucking action of the breastfed infant helps incoming teeth align properly.
  • Intestinal health is also much better than those of non-breastfed babies, as breast milk is easier to digest, reducing spit-up, reflux, and constipation.
  • A toddler’s immune system functions much better since breastmilk contains an immunoglobulin (IGA) which coats the lining of the intestines, which helps prevent germs from penetrating through.
  • Even the skin of these babies is smoother and more supple.

World opinion is on your side. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially recommends mothers breastfeed until three years of age. (Yes, you did read that right!) Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers should breastfeed “at least until one year of age and then as long as baby and mother mutually want to.”

It’s better for Mom’s health. Extended breastfeeding reduces the risk of uterine, ovarian, and breast cancers. Breastfeeding women also have a lower incidence of osteoporosis later in life.

It’s better for your toddler’s behavior. Dr. Sears has observed many extended breastfeeders in his pediatric practice, and knows that breastfed toddlers are easier to discipline. Breastfeeding is an exercise in baby reading, which enables a mother to more easily read her baby’s cues and intervene before a discipline situation gets out of hand. Nursing is also a wonderful calming tool for both Mom and baby.

Blame it on your doctor. One of the easiest ways to silence critics is the phrase: “My doctor advised me to.” You can go on to explain that your doctor (yes, Dr. Sears counts!) told you about all the recent research extolling the benefits of extended breastfeeding.

Let your child silence the critics. Once your friends and relatives see the benefits of your breastfeeding bond, your growth as a mother, and the emotional, intellectual and physical health of your child, they will serve as convincing testimonies to the value of extended breastfeeding.

Read more at Parenting.com and Ask Dr. Sears

Communicating with your Baby: Teaching Sign Language

Even if you are not familiar with the concept of baby signing, you already know that a baby’s motor skills and understanding develop much faster than their ability to speak. For example a 9-month old baby may discover how to wave or point at something they want long before they can say “Bye bye” or “Give me my toy!”

A little Background

The idea of teaching babies a vocabulary of signs was inspired by child development expert Joseph Garcia. He observed that hearing babies of deaf parents learned sign language easily, and appeared less demanding than other babies because they could express their thoughts and needs more easily. So why shouldn’t all babies enjoy the benefits of signing, too? If a baby can sign for what she wants instead of crying, everyone will be happier. Now there are a number of organizations run baby-signing classes in the United States and in other countries, and babies as young as 6 months old have been taught to “sign” successfully.

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image from Momz.com

Benefits of Baby Signing

The first benefit is obvious– less frustration for babies who can’t express their needs, and less frustration for parents who don’t know how to comfort their crying baby. But there are other benefits, such as creating a closer bond between parent and child, as mom Sharon Mason explains on BabyCenter:

“Morgan has a vocabulary of about 30 words and he’s starting to string signs together. He comes and tells me if our dog is asleep (first fingers and forefingers of both hands pointing downward) or if he can hear an airplane (swooping his hand). It’s wonderful knowing what’s going on inside his head. I also love being able to talk to him even when he’s on the other side of the room. At playgroup the other day I noticed he was looking a bit panicky — I couldn’t reach him easily so I signed ‘I love you’ (hugging myself, looking at him), instead.”

Another benefit of baby signing is that it actually helps your child’s language development and vocabulary. Garcia points out that signing is about enhancing, not replacing language, and is useful in creating a link between the gesture and the word. And when your baby can sign back, communication becomes two-way. If, for example, she tells you she can hear a truck, you can respond, “Yes, I can hear the truck too. Look, there it is! Isn’t it loud?”  You will probably end up spending more time talking to your child, which is one of the best ways of helping speech develop.

And babies and sign language says that American Sign Language is the third most used language in the United States! So, should your baby continue to learn American Sign Language past his 3rd year, he will have acquired a second!

How to Teach your Baby to Sign

There are a few different ways to go about it. The first is to make up your own signs- putting your hand to your mouth to say “food” or steering an imaginary wheel to say “car.”  Garcia’s “Sign With Your Baby” program is based on American Sign Language. Another program called “Baby Signs” was created by psychologists Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn, and uses a set of simple signs designed for babies.

More information:

Signing with your baby or toddler: How to communicate before your child can talk

Babies and Sign Language

Signing With Your Baby Trade tips and tricks with other parents

Sign2Me, expert Joseph Garcia’s Web site, offers an explanation of his signing program and information on local instructors and classes.

Baby Signs is the Web site for Baby Signs authors Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. The site offers information on their signing program as well as local instructors and classes.

Signing With Your Baby Web site features tips and information, a discussion group for signing parents, photos of babies using signs, and links to online signing dictionaries.

Michigan State University’s online American Sign Language (ASL) browser shows the signs for thousands of different words.

Here’s an adorable baby signing over 15 different words:

7 Need-to-Know Reasons to Breastfeed your Baby

I’m a huge advocate of breastfeeding, and this isn’t the first time I’ve written about the benefits that come along with it.  I think it’s so important that I have nursed both my children until age 2, and plan to breastfeed the next one for that same amount, too, if possible.

I know that breastfeeding causes many problems for new mothers, including painful, bleeding nipples, infections, and babies who don’t seem to be getting enough milk. Breastfeeding also requires quite a time commitment, especially for working mothers who need to pump or take time off to feed their baby. It’s not always simple, for many reasons that are personal to each individual woman. I  had a hard time in the beginning, and have had many friends and family members who were so frustrated they’ve given up breastfeeding altogether.  But I also think that the benefits of breastfeeding are NOT widely known, so if you’re on the fence about breastfeeding, here’s another list of reasons to remind you why nursing your baby is one of the greatest things you can be doing for him/her!

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image from HerDaily: Breastfeeding increases IQ

1. Breastfeeding Builds Your Baby’s Immune System

Newborns do not have a mature immune system to protect them from illness. Antibodies, or immune molecules, in a mother’s breast milk are transferred to the baby, giving them immunities to illnesses that the mother is immune to.  Beyond that, if your newborn is exposed to a germ, she will transfer it back to the mother while nursing. The mother’s body will then make antibodies to that particular germ and transfer them back to the baby at the next feeding.

Studies have also shown that babies who are breastfed exclusively have better functioning immune systems in the long-term as well.

Formula-fed babies have higher rates of:

  • Middle ear infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis, a digestive tract disorder that is a leading killer of premature infants

Breastfed infants have added protection against:

  • Heart disease
  • Immune system cancers such as lymphoma
  • Bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease
  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
  • Asthma and allergies
  • Respiratory infections
  • Eczema
  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes

2. Breastfeeding Improves Baby’s Brain Function

Breast milk is not only good for the newborn’s immune system, it is also good for the brain. Breastfed infants tend to have higher intelligence than formula-fed infants. This may be due to certain compounds found in breast milk, including omega-3 fatty acids.

For instance, one study found that the verbal IQ of 7- and 8-year-old children who had been breastfed was about 10 points higher than those who were not. Another 18-year study of over 1,000 children found that those who were breastfed had higher intelligence and greater academic achievement than children who were formula-fed as babies.

It is interesting to note that babies who are breastfed naturally spend more time in what is known as the “quiet alert” state, which is not only soothing for parents but also it is the state most conducive to the newborn’s learning.

3. Breastfeeding Reduces Obesity

Breast milk contains a protein that could reduce the risk of obesity later in life. In fact, the longer a child is breastfed, the lower their risk of obesity, according to a study by U.S. researchers. The protein affects the body’s processing of fat.

4. Breastfeeding Helps Babies Emotionally

Babies have an intense need to be held and one of the most comforting things for a newborn is the physical act of nursing. Leaving a baby alone with a bottle is not emotionally satisfying to the child and does not make them feel safe or secure.

Breastfeeding also promotes bonding between mother and baby in a way that bottle-feeding cannot. Most women naturally feel a strong desire to hold their baby and there are physical and emotional reasons for this. Breastfeeding ensures that mother and baby have some intimate time together and actually stimulates the mother’s release of the oxytocin hormone, which is known to promote maternal behavior.

5. Reduces Mom’s Risk of Cancer and Other Health Conditions

Breastfeeding is a mutually beneficial experience in that it helps both mother and child. Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers and osteoporosis later in life.

6. Moms Return to Pre-Pregnancy Weight Faster

Breastfeeding women lose weight faster than those who do not. This is because producing milk and breastfeeding requires about 500 calories per day. This is the equivalent of jogging about five miles! Breastfeeding also stimulates contractions in the uterus that help it to shrink back to its normal, pre-pregnancy size faster. It also helps to reduce lower body fat.

7. Save Time and Money

Of course, your primary reason for wanting to breastfeed is for your baby, but the more material advantages of breastfeeding are hard to ignore. If you breastfeed you don’t have to prepare bottles and formula–breast milk is always fresh and ready to go. This will save you a substantial amount of time at a period in your life when you will need it!

Breastfeeding also saves you the expense of buying formula, which typically costs at least $800 per year. The savings continue to accumulate as your child grows, as breastfed babies tend to have fewer doctor’s visits and lower overall medical expenses. One study even found that a group of formula-fed babies had over $68,000 in health care costs for six months, compared to only $4,000 for the breastfed group.

From: Seven Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child That You Need to Know

More info: Breastfeeding A-Z Index

12 Benefits of Ultrasound

The first ultrasound is exciting, and each one, where the baby is a little more identifiably human, is anticipated more and more with each visit. By eight weeks the image resembles a lima bean with a pulse; by fifteen weeks the ultrasound image can show baby’s major organs; by the 20th week, the ultrasound pictures can often confirm the sex of your baby.

Twenty-year follow-up studies of thousands of mothers and babies who received diagnostic ultrasound have shown no apparent harmful effects. It is certainly safer than x-rays. There is a theoretical concern about whether the sound waves striking growing fetal tissues can cause any damage the cell. The National Institutes of Health Task Force on Diagnostic Ultrasound concludes: “We could find no evidence to justify the recommendation that every pregnancy be screened by ultrasound. In the face of even theoretical risks, where there is no benefit, then the theoretical risks cannot be justified.”

This means that, as fun as it is to see your growing baby on screen, the use of ultrasounds is really to check the baby’s progress and make sure he is developing properly. Dr. Sears lists 12 benefits of ultrasound:

1. Verify whether or not the mother is pregnant, when pregnancy tests and the usual signs of pregnancy are unclear.

2. Detect a possible ectopic pregnancy .

3. Obtain a more precise determination of baby’s gestational age when there is a discrepancy between uterine size and estimated due date. In the first half of pregnancy ultrasound can accurately date baby’s gestation within 7 to 10 days. In later months it is not as accurate and is useless for dating the pregnancy.

4. Evaluate baby’s growth if other signs, such as uterine size, suggest a problem.

5. Determine the cause of unexplained bleeding.

6. Confirm how baby lies in the uterus (breech, transverse, vertex) if the clinical signs are unclear late in pregnancy.

7. Detect suspected multiple pregnancies if mother’s uterus is growing faster than expected.

8. Detect problems with the placenta, such as placenta previa (the placenta being positioned too low or over the cervix) and abruptio placentae (the placenta is separating prematurely, causing bleeding).

9. Measure the amount of amniotic fluid if mother is losing amniotic fluid or not replenishing it at a normal rate.

10. Detect abnormalities of the uterus, especially in women with a history of previous miscarriages or problem pregnancies.

11. Detect developmental abnormalities in the growing baby that would influence where baby should be delivered and what preparations need to be made beforehand. Abnormalities of heart, lung, and intestinal development can, if detected early, alert parents and healthcare providers to deliver the baby in facilities equipped to begin management immediately after birth. Oftentimes, early recognition and early treatment can be lifesaving.

12. Assist in medical or surgical procedures: amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling, trying to turn a breech baby, fetoscopy, or intrauterine transfusion.

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All about Water Births

Water birth is a method of giving birth immersed in a tub of warm water. Proponents believe this method to be safe and provides many benefits for both mother and infant, including pain relief and a less traumatic birth experience for the baby. Women who have chosen water birth describe it as being peaceful, joyous, comforting, and more relaxing than a “land birth.” Critics argue that the procedure introduces unnecessary risks to the infant such as infection and water inhalation.

Benefits for Mother:

  • Water is soothing, comforting, relaxing. Water birth is a form of hydrotherapy which, in studies, has been shown to be an effective form of pain management for a variety of conditions especially lower back pain (a common complaint of women in labor).
  • In the later stages of labor, the water seems to increase the woman’s energy.
  • The buoyancy lessens her body weight, allows free movement and new positioning.
  • Buoyancy promotes more efficient uterine contractions and better blood circulation, resulting in better oxygenation of the uterine muscles, less pain for the mother, and more oxygen for the baby.
  • Immersion in water often helps lower high blood pressure caused by anxiety.
  • Water seems to alleviate stress-related hormones, allowing the mother’s body to produce endorphins, which are pain-inhibitors.
  • Water causes the perineum to become more elastic and relaxed, which reduces the incidence and severity of tearing and the need for an episiotomy and stitches.
  • As the laboring women relaxes physically she is able to relax mentally, concentrating her efforts inward on the birth process.
  • The water provides a sense of privacy, which releases inhibitions, anxiety, and fears.

Benefits for Baby:

  • Provides a similar (warm, watery) environment as the amniotic sac.
  • Eases the stress of the birth, providing reassurance and security.

Risks involved in Water Births:

Although there are no proven disadvantages to birthing in water, it is still a controversial means of delivery.  Critics cite possible risks, including:

  • Water aspiration. If the baby is experiencing stress in the birth canal or the umbilical cord becomes kinked or twisted, the baby may gasp for air, possibly inhaling water into the lungs. This would be rare because babies do not inhale air until they are exposed to air. They receive oxygen through the umbilical cord until they start to breathe on their own or until the cord is cut.
  • The umbilical cord could snap as the baby is brought to the surface of the water. This is preventable by using caution when lifting the baby up to the mother’s chest.
  • Another concern is that the water could increase the risk of infection. However, studies to date do not show increased risk of transferring bacteria from infant to mother or mother to infant.
  • Slowed labor, due to the documented relaxing effects of water, may be seen as a benefit rather than a rsik.  Laboring in water is sometimes associated with a decrease in the intensity of contractions, and is thus thought to slow labor.
  • Maternal blood loss. For care providers who are inexperienced in delivery in water, it may be difficult to assess the amount of maternal blood loss. Although there are well-developed methods of determining maternal blood loss in water, many providers prefer to deliver the placenta out of water for this reason.

Water births may be discouraged in the following situations, and should be discussed with your health care provider:

  • If you have Herpes: Herpes transfers easily in water, so you will want to discuss this thoroughly with your health care provider.
  • If your baby is breech: Though water birth has been done with bottom or feet first presentations you will want to discuss this thoroughly with your health care provider.
  • If you have been diagnosed with excessive bleeding or maternal infection.
  • If you are having multiples: Though water births have been successful with twins around the world, you will want to discuss this thoroughly with your health care provider.
  • If preterm labor is expected: If a baby is two weeks or more prior to due date, water birth is not recommended.
  • If there is severe meconium: Mild to moderate meconium is fairly normal. Since meconium floats to the surface in a tub, your health care provider will watch for it and remove it immediately, or help you out of the tub.
  • If you have toxemia or preeclampsia: You will want to thoroughly discuss this with your health care provider.

For more information, check out:

Wikipedia (includes history and studies associated with water births)

Waterbirth.org

WaterBirthInfo.com

AmericanPregnancy.org,

YourWaterBirth.com (Offers supplies for an at-home water birth, such as pools, hoses, thermometers, protective floor covers, birth kits, and more)

Practical Pregnancy Tips for the Working Woman

Many women find themselves juggling the “job” of growing a baby and their professional job in the workplace. For some, work is a welcome way to wait out the nine months, and they envision themselves working right up until the first contraction. Other women may need time to prepare their nest and focus on the life inside; they often plan to stop working in the last trimester. Some mothers, due to pregnancy complications, need to quit even in the early months.
Whatever your pregnancy situation and your job, here are 10 Tips to Working while Pregnant. This article is from Dr. Sears’ website and it’s pretty long, but definitely worth reading! You can read the original story here.
Tip #1: Inform your employer.

If you intend to stop working after your baby comes, give your employer plenty of time to find a replacement, and yourself enough time to finish up important projects. Tell them when you plan to quit and ask how they would like you to help make the transition a smooth one. You will act responsibly, but your stated intention to quit makes it clear that your pregnancy and family come first.

Tip #2: Keep your options open.

If you want to return to your job after the baby is born, use caution. You want to keep your options open for a satisfactory maternity leave and at the same time protect your position. While it is illegal to discriminate against someone who is pregnant, the corporate world is often confused by a worker becoming a mother. A promotion you are in line for may be jeopardized by the fact of your pregnancy. You may risk being given less challenging assignments because of your “condition.” You may be uncertain how your coworkers will take the news. Some may be sympathetic to your occasional memory lapses and your first trimester miseries. Others, you fear, will be worried about having to “cover” for you on days when you aren’t at your best.

Tip #3: Use good timing.

The best time to tell is just after people begin to suspect you might be pregnant and before they are sure. Although you are excited about your news, most women recommend against revealing a pregnancy in the early months. Be careful not to wait too long to tell, either. You don’t want to give your employer any reason to think you are untrustworthy; any suggestion that you concealed your pregnancy for your own gain may make you look as though you are not a “team player.”

Tip #4: Do some homework.

Don’t expect to function every day on your job at the same level as you did before you were pregnant. If you want to stay employed yet find your current position too strenuous, ask for a temporary transfer to a less demanding job. Better to be honest with your supervisor than be disgruntled and inefficient. If you don’t want to change jobs, ask if you could work part-time, do some of your work at home, or have flexible hours where you could work harder or longer on more comfortable days.

Tip #5: Explore your options.

Interview yourself. If you truly know what you want, you are more likely to get it. Determine what you ideally want, what you can afford and what’s best for your pregnancy and your family. Can you grow a baby and do your job? Do you want to? Bear in mind that complications or situations during your pregnancy (or after delivery) may make some of these decisions for you. Unless your doctor or your baby determines otherwise, could you work through most of your pregnancy? Would you rather start maternity leave early? Continue your job on a part-time basis from home? After the baby is born, do you want to come back to your present job, or one that is more compatible with family life? Do you want full-time work or part-time?

Tip #6: Enjoy the best of both worlds.

Working while pregnant should not mean being torn between protecting your job and mothering your baby, you can do both. Whether you want to take off and return as soon as possible or work as long as possible and return as late as possible, you should be able to work out the best plan for you, your baby, and your family. That plan may be very specific or quite general. One mother we know was certain that she was more committed to her baby than her job, so she had nothing to lose. Not knowing how she’d feel about working, she asked her employer if they could negotiate after the baby came. In the meantime, she offered to keep up with projects from home on an hourly pay basis. After the baby was born, she worked a few hours a week from home, came in for meetings at four and six weeks (with the baby) and at eight weeks knew enough to negotiate a continuation of work from home for an hourly wage — that way she felt neither party would be short-changed. She worked 10 to 20 hours a week from home for the company for four years.

Tip #7: Know your rights.

Know what your company’s maternity leave policies are (you should have been given a copy of them when you were hired) and what the laws allow. If you know and trust a coworker who previously negotiated a leave package with this company, ask what she did, what she got, and what she’d advise you to do. If you do not have a copy of the maternity leave policy, you can get one from the personnel director. (However, he or she may also inform your boss.) If the company does not already have a maternity leave policy and is small enough not to be legally required to have one, you may have to be a pioneer, negotiating the policy for the benefit of your future pregnant coworkers. If you can, check out the maternity leave policies of other companies before you talk to your supervisor.

Tip #8: Review your company’s policy.

When reviewing your company’s policy, be sure you understand:

  • Whether maternity leave is paid, unpaid, or partially paid
  • Whether you are eligible for disability insurance benefits, complete or partial.
  • Whether the company has a medical disability insurance policy that pays a portion of your salary while on leave. Pregnancy is legally considered a medical disability. Find out which forms you have to complete, and where to send them. Follow up: has the appropriate office received, processed, and finalized your application? Be sure your doctor has signed and completed the appropriate forms stating when you are able to return to work.
  • Whether the company’s policy guarantees you can return to your same job or one that is equivalent in pay and advancement possibilities.
  • How much time off you are allowed.
  • Whether you may use your present benefit days (sick leave, personal leave, vacation time) to extend your paid maternity leave.
  • What the company’s provisions are for extended maternity leave — paid, unpaid, partially paid, working from home?
  • What the possibilities are of continuing your present job during and after your pregnancy by working part-time at home and being tied into the office by phone, fax, or computer.
  • What options are available should medical complications or maternal desires necessitate a change in plans.
  • Whether your health plan is still in effect while you are on extended leave, and whether it is partial or full coverage. How long will they keep you on the medical insurance policy at full or partial benefits? Do you share the cost?
Tip #9: Select the right way to tell.

After selecting the time and person to tell (and preferably when that person is having a good day), present your case. How to tell depends upon your pregnancy, your job, your wishes, and the reception you imagine you will get from your supervisor and coworkers. As in any negotiations, consider where the other person is coming from. Your supervisor wants to know when you are leaving, when you are coming back, and how best to fill in the gap while you’re gone. Be ready with those answers. Realistically, your supervisor is more concerned about the company’s operations than your personal needs. Your employer must consider the possibility that you may later decide not to return to work (although studies show that attractive maternity leave policies and a family-friendly workplace make it more likely that women will return).

Tip #10: Work out the right maternity leave package for you.

Only you can guess how much maternity leave time you need; only your company can guess how much time they can afford to be without you. Remember, your bargaining power depends not only on how you present your case, but also on your value to the company. If you have a unique skill required for a special job, you have more clout than if there are many others within the company who can do your job just as well. Be realistic about your needs, your negotiating power, and the needs of the company, but remember, too, that companies want to be seen as family-friendly in their maternity leave policies.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

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We all know that breast milk is the ideal food source for young babies. What some people may not realize is that breastfeeding has benefits for the mother and for society as well!

Here are some of the many benefits of breastfeeding, from WomensHealth.gov:

BENEFITS FOR BABY:

  • Breast milk is the most complete form of nutrition for infants. A mother’s milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein that is needed for a baby’s growth and development. Most babies find it easier to digest breast milk than they do formula.
  • As a result, breastfed infants grow exactly the way they should. They tend to gain less unnecessary weight and to be leaner. This may result in being less overweight later in life.
  • Premature babies do better when breastfed compared to premature babies who are fed formula.
  • Breastfed babies score slightly higher on IQ tests, especially babies who were born pre-maturely.

BENEFITS FOR MOM:

  • Nursing uses up extra calories, making it easier to lose the pounds of pregnancy. It also helps the uterus to get back to its original size and lessens any bleeding a woman may have after giving birth.
  • Breastfeeding, especially exclusive breastfeeding (no supplementing with formula), delays the return of normal ovulation and menstrual cycles. (However, you should still talk with your doctor or nurse about birth control choices.)
  • Breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and possibly the risk of hip fractures and osteoporosis after menopause.
  • Breastfeeding makes your life easier. It saves time and money. You do not have to purchase, measure, and mix formula. There are no bottles to warm in the middle of the night!
  • A mother can give her baby immediate satisfaction by providing her breast milk when her baby is hungry.
  • Breastfeeding requires a mother to take some quiet relaxed time for herself and her baby.
  • Breastfeeding can help a mother to bond with her baby. Physical contact is important to newborns and can help them feel more secure, warm and comforted.
  • Breastfeeding mothers may have increased self-confidence and feelings of closeness and bonding with their infants.

BENEFITS FOR SOCIETY:

  • Breastfeeding saves on health care costs. Total medical care costs for the nation are lower for fully breastfed infants than never-breastfed infants since breastfed infants typically need fewer sick care visits, prescriptions, and hospitalizations.
  • Breastfeeding contributes to a more productive workforce. Breastfeeding mothers miss less work, as their infants are sick less often. Employer medical costs also are lower and employee productivity is higher.
  • Breastfeeding is better for our environment because there is less trash and plastic waste compared to that produced by formula cans and bottle supplies.

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