Thursday, September 13, 2018

Benefits of Breastfeeding: Part 1

I was a formula-fed baby myself, which is not surprising considering the year that I was born. In the late 50’s two "modern" baby formulas were introduced, Similac and Enfamil, both of which were aggressively advertised with exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims of health benefits for babies. These ads even subtly insinuated that breast feeding was less healthy and even "unclean". Who wouldn’t have chosen to use formula in the early 60s?

benefits of breastfeedingThe invention that had once been viewed as only emergency food for babies who could not be breastfed (for any number of reasons) was now a mass-produced product that was intended and expected to make money, and boy has it ever turned into a big industry!

Today, we know much more about the benefits of breastfeeding, which come from both the breast milk itself as well as the very act of breastfeeding. This information comes from a vast amount of research that consistently shows the significant benefits of breast feeding over formula for both baby and mom.

Breast milk is rich in certain fatty acids and proteins that are very important in brain and eye development. It also contains living white blood cells, millions per feeding, as well as immunoglobulins which are vital to providing baby with good immune function. Breast milk is also rich in digestive enzymes and multiple hormones which are helpful to baby. Another important difference is that the taste of breast milk varies depending on what mom is eating. This is important in helping baby to appreciate the taste of different foods, and develop a more varied diet as table foods are introduced.

Why are all of these things important? Here are some of the benefits breastfed babies enjoy….

  • Decreased risk of many common infections, including bacterial, viral, and yeast infections.
  • Decreased risk of many chronic health problems, including asthma, autoimmune diseases, allergies, celiac disease (gluten allergy), diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, some mental health conditions, and many others.
  • Improved biome (beneficial bacteria) in the gut. You may not realize this, but your body’s normal function relies significantly on having a really good balance of bacteria in your gut. This affects many aspects of health. Breastfeeding helps to establish this biome early in baby’s life.
  • Better hormonal balance.
  • Better immune system development and function, including improved effectiveness of vaccines
  • Improved development of motor skills, language skills, and intellectual function.
  • Improved vision
  • Decreased risk of developing obesity
  • Decreased risk of certain types of cancer.
  • Decreased risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Closer bond with mom.
I am not trying to demonize formula. There are instances when it is life saving for babies whose mothers cannot breast feed. However, I do not believe that it should be considered an equal choice for feeding baby. It is not even on the same playing field. I chose to breastfeed both of my children, and it was the best decision I could have made!

If you have any questions about breastfeeding, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Meningitis Vaccine - What you should know

Infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis (also called meningococcus) is a very serious illness. It can cause meningitis, which is an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and can also cause infections in the blood, and can result in death or serious disability.

This infection often occurs suddenly, without warning, and can happen in people who are otherwise very healthy. It spreads easily from person to person, through close contact, or lengthy contact, especially among people living in the same household, or living in dormitories or military barracks. Meningitis can be caused by other bacteria and viruses as well, but the disease caused by Neisseria meningitidis is generally the most serious and most contagious.

Can we prevent meningococcal disease?

There are now vaccines against several subgroups of this bacteria. These vaccines do not prevent all cases of this infection, but they can prevent a large percentage of cases.

There are two types of meningococcal vaccines available:
  • Conjugate vaccines (Menactra or Menveo) protect against 4 subgroups (types A, C, W, and Y). These are the subgroups that cause most of the disease in adolescents.
  • Serogroup B vaccines (Bexsero or Trumenba) protect against only the subgroup B.
Who should get a meningitis vaccine?

The CDC recommends that all preteens and teens should be vaccinated with a conjugate vaccine at age 11-12, then a booster dose should be given at 16 years old.

The CDC also recommends that certain preteens and teens should get a group B meningococcal vaccine if they have particular risk factors that make them more susceptible to the infection.

Teens may get a group B meningococcal vaccine, between 16-18 years old, if they choose to do so, but neither the CDC, nor the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends this routinely because disease from this subgroup is at historically low levels. However, if there is an outbreak in your child's community, this puts them into one of the high risk groups that should get the vaccine.

Vaccination with the conjugate vaccine is the best protection during the ages when they are at highest risk for this infection. Many colleges require proof of meningococcal conjugate vaccination within 5 years before starting school. I certainly would not have let my kids go to college without it.

If you would like more information about meningitis vaccination recommendations, you can check out this information from the CDC:

If you have any questions about Meningitis, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Monitoring Your Blood Pressure at Home

On a recent visit to see my mother, I watched her check her blood pressure with her home machine.  I was surprised to find out that she wasn't really following the best procedures for getting an accurate blood pressure reading.  I thought a discussion of home blood pressure monitoring would make a good subject for our Health Tip today.

The latest guidelines for the treatment of high blood pressure put more emphasis than ever before on home blood pressure monitoring.  There are different options for checking blood pressure at home.  First I'll talk about the different options, then how to make sure you get accurate readings.

There is a device, called an ambulatory blood pressure monitor.  This device is about the size of a portable radio with an attached belt or strap that is worn on the body.   This is something that your doctor may ask you to use to get a better picture of what your blood pressure is doing throughout the day.  You would get it from your doctor's office.  Throughout the day, the machine will automatically check your blood pressure about every 30 minutes, and usually every hour overnight.   When you are using this machine, you are also given a diary to write down your activities.  When the 24 hours are over you take the machine back to your doctor's office along with the diary.  Your doctor will then review the blood pressure readings in the context of your activities.

In many cases, rather than using an ambulatory blood pressure monitor, we simply recommend that you take your blood pressure at home, or have it checked at your local pharmacy, intermittently at different times of the day.  If you are taking your blood pressure in this way, there are a few things that you should do in order to get an accurate reading.
  • Choose a good quality cuff that fits your upper arm well.  Your pharmacist can help you find the right machine for you.  Do not use a cuff that measures anywhere besides your upper arm.
  • Occasionally take your machine with you when you see your doctor, so that the doctor or nurse can check how accurately it is measuring.
  • Avoid caffeine, exercise, and smoking for at least 30 minutes prior to taking your blood pressure.
  • Always sit in a chair that supports your back and allows your feet to be flat on the floor.  Sit in this way for at least 5 minutes before you start your machine.  (If you sometimes take your blood pressure while leaning back in your recliner, that's ok, but you have to indicate this when you write that reading down, because it should be interpreted differently by your doctor.) 
  • Make sure that your arm that is being used for the blood pressure reading is well supported (resting on a table for instance) and relaxed at the level of your heart.
  • Make sure that the blood pressure cuff is high enough on your arm.  The middle of the cuff should be at about the same level as the middle of your breast bone.
  • Keep a good record of your readings, including the date and time of day.  If you did anything out of the ordinary, for instance if you had just stopped exercising, always write that down along with your reading so that your doctor will know how to interpret that particular reading.  Be sure to take these readings in when you see your doctor.
If you have any questions about monitoring your own blood pressure at home, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.