Breast milk is best milk
When Rosanna Ringer first breastfed her baby in public, "my husband was having a cow - he thought I was exposing myself," said the Florence mother of three.
That was 22 years ago. Remarkably, times haven't changed much.
"There can be a problem with women breastfeeding at work, or the husband feels excluded because he wants to give the baby a bottle, or her mother-in-law thinks formula is better - women get a lot of conflicting advice," said Ringer, a registered dietician, who directs Pinal County's 11 WIC clinics. WIC is the federal government's Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children that serves low-income families.
Ringer's mission is to help new mothers come round to the idea that "breast milk is best milk."
It's going to be an uphill battle.
Only half of new WIC moms in Pinal County breastfeed. And 1997 figures from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that breastfeeding rates in the United States continue to be "among the lowest in the world." Only 64 percent of women initiate breastfeeding in the hospital (only 46.2 percent exclusively), and only 28.6 percent (13.8 percent exclusively) continue to breastfeed until their babies turn 6 months old.
"Through time, women have always helped other women have and raise their babies - sisters, mothers, girlfriends have all shared their experience," said Ringer. "One of the biggest problems we have now is that there's a whole generation of women who have never breastfed and the knowledge is being lost."
Ringer's first baby, now a 22-year-old mother herself, dragged her husband to a class on breastfeeding before their baby was born. "He was kind of embarrassed, but he ended up helping the baby latch on during feeding," she said.
Breast feeding can prevent childhood diarrhea, ear infections, respiratory tract, and urinary tract infections and is known to reduce sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Babies have a much lower tendency than formula-fed babies do to develop food allergies, and are less likely to become obese as adults. The act of breastfeeding releases growth hormones, promotes healthy dental development, and establishes a trusting relationship between baby and mother.
Breastfeeding also has benefits for mothers. A July 20 study from the British medical journal "The Lancet" estimated that women in developed countries like the United States could reduce their risk of breast cancer by more than half if they had children and breastfed at the same rate as women in developing countries do.
Other benefits include a reduction in the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer, as well as osteoporosis. Breastfeeding promotes quick recovery after childbirth, less postpartum depression, and helps moms return to pre-pregnancy weight. Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months can also boost the mother's immune system, help delay a new pregnancy, and reduce the insulin needs of diabetic mothers.
How did something so good become so devalued?
"They tell us they can't take enough breaks to pump, or refrigeration is a problem," said Leticia Rodriguez, nutrition supervisor of the Casa Grande WIC clinic. "Moms think formula is more convenient, even though breast milk comes ready-made."
Baby formula is a product of the industrial age, developed as food companies sought a market for a surplus cow's milk. Gradually, formula makers teamed with doctors and hospitals, winning them over through medical research grants, physician office supplies and free formula samples for new mothers.
Yet, compared to breast milk, formula can cause gas, colic, rashes, constipation and projectile vomiting. Between 1983 and 1993 alone, infant formula was recalled 22 times because of the possibility of death or serious illness of the infant.
The minimum recommended time for breastfeeding is the first 6 months. A year is better and many moms continue to breastfeed for two years. "We know that the extra time provides added benefits to the nerve covering of the brain and brain development," said Rodriguez.
She breastfed her own premature twins in intensive care nursery for five weeks. "I told them I'm breastfeeding - please don't give my babies a bottle."
To kick off World Breastfeeding Week, Aug. 1- 7, county WIC clinics are raffling off breastfeeding T-shirts, support pillows, baby cups and other goodies.
"We'll be celebrating all month," added Rodriguez. "We want women to know the benefits of breastfeeding to both mothers and babies."
For more information or your local WIC office, call 1-800-2525-WIC.
ęCasa Grande Valley Newspapers Inc. 2008