August 7, 2013

Natural Foodie: Breastfeeding should be accepted wherever baby says 'now'

By Avery Yale Kamila

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Look for this logo in public spaces that welcome breastfeeding moms.

Breastfed babies get sick less often and have fewer incidences of asthma and allergies when compared to babies fed formula. And mothers who breastfeed for at least a year reduce their chances of developing a host of diseases, including breast cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis.

According to emerging research, formula, like all processed foods, starves the digestive system of the micronutrients needed to maintain healthy levels of beneficial bacteria, which have been shown to do everything from maintain our immune systems to help regulate our digestion.

In contrast, breastmilk is designed to feed these microorganisms.

Despite the abundance of information showing the benefits of breastfeeding, Maine moms, like moms across the country, breastfeed at lower rates than recommended by health organizations.

Jackie Rogers, with Healthy Casco Bay, helped launch the Whenever, Wherever campaign and told me the initiative was motivated by statistics showing how fast rates of breastfeeding decline in Maine.

"As reported on the (Centers for Disease Control's) Maine Breastfeeding Report Card, three out of four Maine mothers start off breastfeeding," Rogers said. "At the end of six months, Maine breastfeeding rates fall to 48 percent, and only 18 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed. Lack of support in the community and workplace causes one of every three breastfeeding Maine moms to stop before six months and this campaign aims to change that."

Miller said the big driver of the drop off in breastfeeding by six months is clear: mothers returning to work.

While the Portland Press Herald provides an extremely family-friendly maternity leave of six months, most Maine workplaces offer significantly less, in the range of six weeks to three months, according to the local moms I know.

Calling workplaces "the final frontier," Miller said, "there is so much to be done with employers being supportive of breastfeeding moms."

The funny thing is that encouraging breastfeeding is in employers' best interests, since babies who aren't breastfed suffer from more illnesses, increasing the company's healthcare costs and causing parents to miss more work.

Another challenge to achieving better breastfeeding rates is the cultural prejudice against breastfeeding older children, particularly in public.

"Once your child is age 1 and up or looks it people have a harder time (seeing breastfeeding in public)," Miller said. 

Never was this more clear than in the uproar that ensued after Time magazine ran a cover image last May of a petite mom breastfeeding a boy who was big for his age. 

But as Mercy Hospital childbirth educator and lactation nurse Linda Higgins pointed out, successfully nursing a child in public also depends on the mother's attitude.

"Think positive," Higgins said. "More times than not, other people in public will look away, not towards you, and the longer you breastfeed the easier it becomes and you feel more confident with positioning your baby at breast."

As for me, I'm working on being bolder. Maybe some day you'll see me breastfeeding in Monument Square. And if I'm really brave, I'll do so when my very big son is 2 years old.

Avery Yale Kamila lives in Portland, where she breastfeds and writes about health food. She can be reached at avery.kamila@gmail.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 

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