By Cynthia Tintorri | August 30, 2023
There are few truths more unassailable than that, when possible, breastfeeding is the best thing a mother can do for her baby. That’s why the month of August is dedicated to breastfeeding awareness and education. It’s also what pediatrician Dr. David Berger ’91 promotes with all the moms in his 15,000-patient practice, Wholistic Pediatrics and Family Care, in Tampa, Florida.
Berger came to Lehigh as a student in the six-year medical program through the Medical College of Pennsylvania (now known as Drexel University College of Medicine). After a residency at University of South Florida/Tampa General Hospital, he went into private practice as a functional medicine pediatrician. In addition to his practice, Berger discusses wellness topics on his YouTube channel, Dr. David MD.
Why are you such a strong advocate for breastfeeding?
A couple of reasons. During my pediatrics residency, I heard Dr. Frank Oski, chief of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins and author of the book Don’t Drink Your Milk, say that babies who are breastfed have IQs several points higher on average than formula-fed babies. That had a very profound impact on me as a pediatrician. I had already been immersed in doing things naturally for almost two years when I was asked to join the Palm Beach County (Florida) breastfeeding task force as medical liaison. Also, my role model and pediatrician growing up, Dr. Arnold Tanis, was the medical director for La Leche League International (the breastfeeding advocacy and education group). So I have strong breastfeeding roots.
Why is breastfeeding so good for babies?
Most importantly for the immunological benefits. Studies have shown that breastfed children are less likely to have allergies, asthma, and even cancer like certain leukemias. All health goes through the gut – inflammation, allergies, neurological health. Breast milk is best for gut health, facilitating the perfect environment for a baby’s microbiome. When babies nurse, they’re exposed to the mother’s antibodies. Amazingly, within four hours of a mom being exposed to a virus or bacteria, she’s already making specific antibodies that go through her breast milk to protect her child. That can’t happen with baby formula. Also, the amount of antibodies in breast milk actually starts to go up after the baby is about 12 to 15 months old, when they usually start interacting more with other kids. Breast milk is a perfect, personalized antibiotic/anti-infective for a child.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers?
From a practical standpoint, it’s cheaper than formula and there’s less prep and cleanup, unless a mom is pumping — and I honor mothers who make that happen. Research has suggested that women who breastfeed for more than two years in their life have a 50% overall lifetime decreased risk of breast cancer. Other research suggests that If a woman breastfeeds for more than six years combined for all her children, the chances of premenopausal breast cancer drop to under 5%. There’s also a lower rate of ovarian cancers in moms who breastfeed.
What advice do you give mothers who want to breastfeed?
Pediatricians recommend breast milk for at least a year and longer if both mom and baby agree. I counsel couples — often before the baby has even arrived — to prepare them for the external pressures they’re going to face, often from family members who think the baby needs formula. I try to empower mothers to do what, in their infinite wisdom as moms, they know is right for their own child. And there’s a proper timing for the feeding of newborns — every two hours for the first two weeks, with one four- or five-hour break, until the baby gains back the weight they lose after birth. It can be a pain, but if a mom gets this going right for the first two weeks, she’s usually on cruise control after that.
What do you say to moms who get caught up in the “breast vs. bottle” mommy wars?
Well, there are few things more certain in healthcare than the superiority of breast milk — you just can’t say otherwise. I empower women to firmly let people know what the mom’s desire is, and she can kindly ask all others to mind their own business. But I’ll always work with someone who is having trouble, for whatever reason. And sometimes, I’m the strong backbone for them when they really want to make it work.