Groups, lacation consultants provide support for breast-feeding mothers

Tuesday, August 11, 2009
La Leche League members, from left, Katie Reitman, Jennifer Gardner and Gretchen Probst along with Gardner's daughter, Samantha, 6, gather Saturday at Pizzeria Adagio in Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

Although the number of women choosing to breast feed their children continues to rise, many who start with good intentions do not continue until their baby is at least a year old, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Studies have shown health benefits for children who are breast fed, including a reduced risk of childhood cancer, less tendency to develop obesity and diabetes, better dental health and less frequent occurrences of ear infections. For mothers who breast feed, there are decreased risks of some cancers, a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, the ability to lose weight faster and a lower risk of extended uterine bleeding after childbirth. However, studies have also found women and their children will not fully benefit unless regular breast feeding continues throughout infancy.

According to some studies, many women have become better educated about breast feeding and made a decision to give it a try in recent years, partly because there are more resources to inform them about the benefits to their health and their baby's health. Support of hospital staff has made a difference, but when a new mother reaches home, problems can spur the temptation to switch to formula and easily sideline plans to breast feed exclusively, leading to stopping breast feeding altogether, according to breast-feeding experts.

"There's an increase in the number of mothers who leave the hospital wanting to breast feed, because it's the popular thing to do, but when they get home and problems come up they aren't staying with it," said Mary Liz Froemsdorf, a leader of the local chapter of La Leche League, a support group for breast-feeding mothers.

Cheryl Wormington, a nurse and lactation consultant at Southeast Missouri Hospital, said she's seen a 20 percent increase in women who want to breast feed in her 10 years of work with new mothers.

Lissa Pierce Bonifaz of Boston breast-feeds her baby Marisol, 11 weeks old, in 2006 at Logan International Airport in Boston. Several studies have shown regular breast feeding benefits both mother and child. (Associated Press file photo)

Wormington said she sees problems come up when mothers don't have a support system at home and at work.

She said having a mother or other person to talk to who has had a good experience breast feeding is an important resource for new mothers, but many women do not.

"The back-to-work issue is a big one, because there are no laws in place for paid medical leave for women. At work many don't have a place to pump, or the time," Wormington said.

Wormington said she knows everyone who tries to breast feed wouldn't make it a year, but hopes they don't give up easily.

"If you just hang in there and do the best you can, as long as you can, you've done a good thing. The more breast feeding a mother can get in, the better," she said.

Another problem can be a simple misconception by a mother about how well she is actually breast feeding her baby.

Melissa Landreth, Saint Francis Medical Center's lactation consultant nurse, said mothers often perceive a reduction in their milk supply when their baby is going through a growth spurt.

"A lot of times the baby is hitting a growth spurt where they need to feed more frequently, and the breast produces more milk, but the mother ends up thinking her baby is not getting enough," Landreth said.

She said that perception results in using a formula supplement, which turns into a cycle that actually does reduce milk supply.

Wormington said many of the problems mothers have are fixable if they talk to a health-care provider, because there are medicines and herbs that can help boost milk supply.

Froemsdorf advises expectant mothers to educate themselves well before their due date and encourages them to attend La Leche League meetings.

"The way mothers talk about how they overcame difficulties is helpful to the others," Froemsdorf said. "They can overcome early difficulties if they know to nurse often when they are in the hospital, and know what to expect when they get home."

La Leche League has a four-session series of classes planned for September through December. The classes will be held on the second Tuesday of every month, twice daily, in the mornings at the Cape Girardeau Public Library and in the evenings at Saint Francis Medical Center. However, September's first morning class at the library will be Sept. 15.

Both Saint Francis Medical Center and Southeast Missouri Hospital have a regular schedule of breast-feeding classes, as well as trained staff on call to assist mothers who may be having issues.

La Leche League meeting times:

10 a.m., second Tuesday, Sept.-Dec., Cape Public Library, and 6:30 p.m., Saint Francis Medical Center Family Birthplace, McDonald Waiting Room

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