Greenville, S.C. (WSPA)– The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months.

But, sixty percent of mothers do not breastfeed as long as they intended.

As part of our “Ask the Expert” series, in partnership with Bon Secours St. Francis Health, 7 News’ Taylor Murray spoke with a neonatologist and a nursing mother about overcoming the challenges of feeding a baby in the NICU.

For mothers with babies in the NICU, this recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics to exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first 6 months can be challenging.

“I had a lot of anxiety about actually breastfeeding, instead of just through the bottle with breast milk.”

Brittany Phillips- patient & mother of NICU baby, Bon Secours St. Francis Health

Brittany Phillip’s baby, Parker, was born early at 34 weeks and spent 18 days in the NICU. Like many mothers of premature babies, breastfeeding caused anxiety for Phillips who worried whether the baby would gain enough weight.

“I wasn’t sure exactly how much milk she was getting,” Phillips said.

An abundance of medical research shows the benefits of breast milk during infancy can carry over to later in life. Dr. Sue Miller, a neonatologist, says it’s the safest and most nutritious feeding method for babies.

“Breast milk offers a lot from the mom. The antibodies, hormones, all kinds of factors that are involved in helping mom pass her immunity on to baby for infections.”

Dr. Sue Miller, MD- Neonatologist, Bon Secours St. Francis Health

Oftentimes babies in the NICU have trouble latching, are too small, or have other health complications that make breastfeeding challenging for them.. and mom.

“Mom’s tired she’s waking up every few hours and throw in the stress of a NICU stay and it makes everything so much more complicated” Dr. Miller said.

The solution that helped Phillips with feedings– pumping. It’s the answer for most moms with babies in the NICU.

“I’ve stuck with just strictly pumping for right now while she’s still growing. She’s still only five pounds,” Phillips said.

For weeks, most NICU mothers have to pump every 3 hours, around the clock. A huge commitment, but full of lifesaving benefits for baby.

Dr. Miller says that babies, whether in the NICU or not, who are fed with breastmilk have fewer allergies, lower rates of childhood obesity, and less risk of type two diabetes and childhood leukemia.

For more information on the benefits of breastfeeding, click here.

To get assistance or learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding, call 864-675-4215 to speak with a Bon Secours Lactation Consultant. The phone line is covered Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It’s open to any mother with breastfeeding questions, even if the baby was not born at a Bon Secours facility.

To submit a health topic for our Ask the Expert series, click here.