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Breaking down breast-feeding barriers

Breast milk is best for babies because it’s easier for them digest provides all nutrients antibodies baby needs fights disease.

Breast milk is the best for babies because it’s easier for them to digest and provides all of the nutrients and antibodies a baby needs and fights disease. No baby formula can match the chemical makeup of breast milk. | Sun-Times media

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At a glance

What: La Leche League, Joliet group

When: 10 a.m. second Wednesday of the month and 7 p.m. fourth Monday of the month

Where: Call for location for the morning group. Evening meetings are at Family Health Chiropractic, 1736 Essington Road, Joliet

Call: 815-317-6065

Updated: September 29, 2011 12:42AM

When it comes to bonding with their mothers, a local breast-feeding expert suggests it might be better to be a newborn puppy or kitten than a human baby in the United States. “Puppies and kittens have more time with their moms,” said Katy Lebbing, international board certified lactation consultant at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet.

While study after study shows the health advantages of breast-feeding to both mother and baby, women in the U.S. turn to formula rather than deal with the hassles of pumping at work. According to the Centers for Disease Control, three out of four women leave the hospital breast-feeding their babies. By the time the baby is 3 months old, 37 percent are using formula, and 43 percent switch to formula by 6 months.

Because of those figures, in January the surgeon general issued a call to eliminate all obstacles to breast-feeding so that each mother and baby enjoys a successful nursing relationship. Lebbing assisted with the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding 2011 documents.

In addition, Lebbing was one of about 50 technical breast-feeding experts called to Washington, D.C., in April 2009 to be on a technical panel to help with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services breast-feeding goals for 2020.

The effort is seeing results, and working moms are experiencing its first rewards. Employers must now offer reasonable break times and private areas — not the company rest room — for pumping milk.

Overcoming job obstacles

“A lot of people say they will only breast-feed until they go back to work because it’s too hard to find a place to pump,” said Dr. Megan DeFrates, a nursing mother and pediatrician with Provena Saint Joseph Medical Group in New Lenox. “I think the biggest problem is that women are afraid to ask.”

Rather than viewing the new mandate as a detriment, DeFrates wants employers to know that supporting breast-feeding working mothers is actually good for their business and that other companies are already taking the lead in offering it.

For instance, AOL offers its employees a comprehensive, well-baby program. This includes maternity and paternity leave, in-person or e-mail lactation consultations and free breast pumps.

“Breast-fed babies are healthier so moms don’t call off work as much,” DeFrates said. “There is also less employee turnover. Moms are willing to come back to work after their baby’s birth knowing they have the opportunity to pump.”

Once a pumping routine is established (moms should pump for 10 to 15 minutes every three to four hours they’re away from their baby), expressing milk is not disruptive to the work day.

Even if the mother just nursed the baby before coming to work, DeFrates recommends pumping once she gets there. “Your milk supply is higher in the morning because the hormone prolactin is higher,” DeFrates said.

No need to go it alone

The main reason many new mothers encounter obstacles in breast-feeding is that they can no longer depend on other family members for reliable information and support as new mothers 50 years ago did, said La Leche League leader Tara Buchanan of Channahon.

“You had your own built-in network of your mother, sisters and cousins that could help,” Buchanan said. “Today, many mothers and grandmothers have never breast-fed or seen it done, so new moms are going it alone.”

The pediatrician and hospital nursing staff may have different opinions. Women not only need education, they need a consistent message. That’s where La Leche League fills in the gap.

La Leche League worked for Celina Chase of Joliet.

Chase’s biggest breast-feeding obstacle was understanding what is “normal,” because her daughter wanted to nurse around the clock. La Leche League meetings provided Chase with facts and faith in her body’s ability to nurse.

“When my daughter fell asleep at the breast mid-feeding and I couldn’t get her to wake back up to finish, I worried she wasn’t getting enough milk and felt guilty for letting her continue to sleep,” Chase said. “Hearing from experienced mothers that my concerns were unnecessary a normal part of breast-feeding gave me the confidence to continue nursing my daughter beyond her second year of life and even to tandem nurse when my son was born.”

Support meetings like La Leche League also give women a chance to express their frustration at the breast-feeding roadblocks they encounter. Buchanan commonly hears comments such as, “I wish my hospital had a breast-feeding class,” “I wish my doctors had pamphlets in his office” and “I wish my mother didn’t give me dirty looks when I breast-feed.”

Lebbing said part of the solution for breaking down barriers to breast-feeding is better education for doctors and eliminating perks (pens, notepads and Caribbean cruises) for promoting formula use.

“The doctors are the key,” Lebbing said. “Instead of asking, ‘Do you plan to breast-feed or bottle-feed?’ they need to say, ‘What do you know about breast-feeding?’ ‘I want you to breast-feed’ and ‘Do you understand how important breast-feeding is to health and IQ?’ And they need to keep saying it over and over again.”

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