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Wednesday
Jan162013

The Healthiest Milk Is Also the Greenest: Encouraging Moms to Make the Breastfeeding Choice 

by Donna DeForbes

photo: mila supynska - fotolia.com

Exhausted new mothers have a lot to worry about. The health of their baby usually tops that list. The health of the planet does not. With the right support, one parenting practice—breastfeeding—addresses both concerns.

Organizations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to La Leche League International agree that breast milk provides the healthiest start for babies. It contains necessary nutrients and antibodies, digests easier, safeguards against food allergies, promotes proper jaw development and encourages normal weight gain for baby—as well as quicker weight loss for mom.

Breastfeeding is also an eco-friendly choice. The warm, sweet beverage is produced by a woman’s body in a free and unlimited supply. It requires no landfill-clogging components or transportation fuel.

It seems the best of both worlds.

Yet a 2012 report from Save the Children ranks the United States last of industrialized countries in breastfeeding support. Reasons include a lack of paid maternity leave and baby-friendly hospitals plus refusal to adhere to the international code banning health professionals to supply new mothers with breast milk substitutes.

Ban the Bags

In November 2011, in response to a national campaign against the marketing of infant formula in maternity hospitals, Rhode Island became first in the nation to stop giving formula goody bags to new mothers. The intent, according to Governor Lincoln Chafee, is to maintain “a healthier population as a whole.”

Breastfeeding proponent Sarah Vaillancourt wholeheartedly supports this action. “When our first baby was born in 2006, a formula sample diaper bag was given to us — two bags, in fact. We left them at the hospital,” she says. “I was angry they could offer something like that so ‘innocently.’”

Free formula makes it easy for new mothers to abandon breastfeeding early. Even though most expectant mothers receive information about the benefits of breastfeeding, the actual learning curve for getting baby to latch on consistently and pain-free often proves difficult.

“Breastfeeding was challenging and more painful than I expected,” Vaillancourt admits. “Each nurse offered her best advice, but it was often contradictory. I was overwhelmed.”

Persistence Pays Off

Mary K. Talbot’s first two children ended up in the NICU of Rhode Island’s Women & Infants Hospital. With a lactation consultant cheering her on, Talbot chose to pump nonstop. “I feel that giving all three of my children breast milk put them on the path to intellectual and dietary success.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health, breastfeeding:

  • Fights Disease Breastfed babies have a lower risk of asthma, obesity, diabetes and SIDS. Breastfeeding moms decrease their risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and postpartum depression.
  • Encourages Bonding Skin-to-skin contact boosts a mother’s feel-good oxytocin levels and gives baby his first sensations of love and security.
  • Enhances Society Breastfeeding contributes to fewer sick days, lower medical costs, a decrease in infant mortality and reduced waste.

This gives many women reason to persist despite the obstacles.

Maria Teixeira’s first son was delivered via emergency cesarean and spent his early days in the NICU. “I was under heavy medication and my milk was slow to come in, so he was fed formula in the NICU. I panicked and started pumping furiously. Within four days of his birth, I was able to provide enough pumped breast milk to get my son off formula completely,” says Teixeira. “The nurses were shocked. He never did latch on, but I nourished him with pumped breast milk for one year.

“While my child’s health was the primary reason for my persistence, my partner and I also believed breastfeeding was the green choice,” adds Teixeira. “We wanted to avoid plastics, unknown chemicals and a disposable lifestyle.”

Vaillancourt believes encouragement is key for new moms. “My primary nursing advocate was my husband, and I tell every expectant father that his support is essential. The bond I formed with other nursing moms was awesome. In the end, breastfeeding was convenient and reassured me that my baby was getting what he needed.”

Making Change

Although controversial, the idea of government support is not new, as evidenced by this 1938 poster distributed by the Works Progress Administration to “promote breastfeeding and proper child care.”

This past spring saw a renewed effort by consumer and health organizations to end the marketing of infant formula in birthing hospitals. Since then, more than 600 hospitals across the country have eliminated the goody bags, and in July, Massachusetts became the second state to ban them completely. New York aims to become the third with the Latch On NYC Initiative that went into effect September 3 and puts formula under lock and key in city hospitals. While it’s less accessible in all three states, formula is still available if needed.

Steps like these might be the additional encouragement many mothers need to pursue breastfeeding—the optimal choice for themselves, their babies and the earth.

Donna DeForbes is a writer, graphic designer and green mommy blogger who aims to uplift others and inspire change through her creative projects. She is passionate about books, the environment, clean design, natural parenting and living authentically. Her life purpose is to create beautiful things and clever words and to fill the world with love and laughter. A Philly native, she currently lives in Rhode Island with her progressive husband and precocious six-year-old daughter. Read her green parenting blog at www.eco-mothering.com or follow EcoMom on Facebook at www.facebook.com/EcoMom.DeForbes

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Sears, William, M.D. The Breastfeeding Book: Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Your Child From Birth Through Weaning. Little, Brown and Company: New York, 2000.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, La Leche League International. Plume (Penguin Group): New York, 2004.

 

Journals and Reports

American Academy of Pediatrics. “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.” Pediatrics. Originally published online February 27, 2012.

Save the Children. “Breastfeeding in the Industrialized World.” Nutrition in the First 1,000 Days: State of the World’s Mothers 2012. May 2012.

 

Websites

Ban the Bags. “Rhode Island birthing hospitals end baby formula giveaways.” Accessed June 7, 2012 from http://banthebags.org/date/2011/11

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Breastfeeding” (October 11, 2011). Accessed June 9, 2012 from http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/

Huffington Post. “Massachusetts hospitals ban free baby formula gift bags 7 years after Mitt Romney said no.” (July 18, 2012). Accessed September 5, 2012 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/massachusetts-formula-ban_n_1684259.html

Huffington Post. “Public Citizen Launches New Campaign Against Hospital Formula-Pack Handouts.” (April 9, 2012). Accessed June 17, 2012 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/public-citizen-formula-campaign_n_1412538.html

KMOV. “NYC plans to ban baby formula in hospitals.” (August 1, 2012). Accessed September 5, 2012 from http://www.kmov.com/news/health/164636776.html

La Leche League International. “Benefits of Breastfeeding” (February 9, 2012). Accessed June 10, 2012 from http://www.llli.org/nb/nbbenefits.html

New York City Department of Health.  “Latch On NYC.” Accessed Spetember 24, 2012 from http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/ms/latchonnyc.shtml

New York Post. “Mayor Bloomberg pushing NYC hospitals to hide baby formula so more new moms will breast-feed.” (July 28, 2012). Accessed September 5, 2012 from http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/mayor_knows_breast_WqU1iYRQvwbEkDuvn0vb1H

Scientific American. “Surety Bond: Breastfeeding May Increase Children’s IQ” (November 16, 2011). Accessed June 17, 2012 from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=surety-bond-breast-feeding

Unicef. “International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.” (updated January 12, 2005). Accessed September 13, 2012 from http://www.unicef.org/nutrition/index_24805.html

USA Today. “No more free infant formula at RI hospitals” (updated November 29, 2011). Accessed June 7, 2012 from http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/wellness/story/2011-11-29/No-more-free-infant-formula-at-RI-hospitals/51460584/1

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Why Breastfeeding is Important” (August 4, 2011). Accessed on June 10, 2012 from http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/why-breastfeeding-is-important/ 

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