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What is Breastfeeding Medicine?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2016
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Breastfeeding medicine is the branch of medicine that focuses on human lactation including patient treatment and research. Those trained primarily in this field are known as lactation specialists and consultants. Pediatricians and obstetrician/gynecologists (OB/GYNs) may also be trained in lactation because they typically provide care for nursing mothers and their children. This branch of medicine is slightly different than other specialities because its practice often applies to two people at once. Research dedicated to human lactation and information dissemination are also a part of breastfeeding medicine.

A large portion of this branch of the health care industry is the treatment of patients, which is primarily handled by lactation specialists. This can include educating patients on the benefits of breastfeeding as well as teaching them to start and maintain a breastfeeding relationship. Resolving difficulties with nursing also falls under breastfeeding medicine.

Assisting mothers and infants with latch issues, increasing milk supply. and working through nursing strikes typically make up the bulk of a lactation specialist's work. The majority of hospitals that provide labor and delivery services either have dedicated lactation specialists on the premises or on call. Lactation specialists and consultants also often work at government-run health departments and provide private services for breastfeeding mothers.

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The treatment of breastfeeding-related medical issues is also considered part of this branch. This is most often handled by pediatricians and OB/GYNs, although lactation specialists may be able to treat a patient if no medication is required. The treatment of thrush, mastitis, and failure to thrive are the most common medical issues associated with breastfeeding.

While these medical issues are not considered part of breastfeeding medicine on their own, this specialty is relatively unique when compared to others in the health industry. Nearly any condition and its resulting treatment that affects an nursing mother or her child almost always has something to do with lactation medicine. This includes the choice of treatment for any number of health issues; if a mother is nursing and requires medical attention, treating her disease while protecting her nursing relationship is part of this specialty. As with pregnancy, anything that affects a woman while she is nursing will ultimately affect her child and, in some cases, her child's health.

Breastfeeding medicine also focuses on promoting breast milk as the primary source of nutrition for children under one year of age and a regular source of nutrition for toddlers. Most major organizations and leaders in this field consider the lack of breastfeeding in many parts of the world to be a public health issue. Researching breast milk and human lactation, as well as providing information to new and expectant mothers, is a primary focus of this branch. This is conducted by offering lactation consultation in hospitals, at health departments, and information via print and television advertisements.

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