Effort under way to promote idea that breast-feeding is normal
The sound of tiny breaths drawn in rhythmic counterpoise to the smacking and slurping of a breast-fed infant may be among the most ancient and intimate ever heard.
The bond forged at a mother’s breast could last a lifetime, but beyond the closeness the experience fosters, it is the emotional, psychological and physical benefits for both mother and child that motivate Grand Junction area experts to spread the word: Breast-feeding is normal.
The Mesa County Breastfeeding Task Force, in conjunction with Colorado Baby, a downtown retailer, celebrated World Breastfeeding Week by giving away an electric breast pump and other prizes Aug. 1, the first day of the seven-day observance.
“It’s about really supporting moms,” said Karla Klemm, a registered dietician and task force member who attended the Aug. 1 event. “Our big emphasis is, yes you can work and breast-feed.”
Colorado ranks first in the nation as the state where the most children are nourished exclusively on breast milk for the first six months of their lives, Mesa County Health Department spokeswoman Veronica Daehn Harvey said.
One reason for the ranking may be a Colorado law that requires employers to provide a private room for nursing mothers to express breast milk.
“An employer should provide you with a place to pump, like a clean storage room. The company doesn’t have to spend a lot of money to make this area, but it can’t be a bathroom,” Klemm said.
“If an employer does it, an employee is going to be more committed to the company. They will be absent from work less because their children will be healthier,” she said.
Businesses that support breast-feeding employees are also boosting their bottom line, Harvey said.
“Research shows that workplace support for breast-feeding mothers reduces health care costs because mothers and babies are healthier, reduces absenteeism because breast-fed babies are sick less often, and improves productivity, job satisfaction, morale and retention,” Harvey said.
Scientific studies back these claims up. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, “Breastfeeding provides a protective effect against respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases and allergies including asthma, eczema and atopic dermatitis.
“The rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is reduced by over a third in breastfed babies, and there is a 15 percent to 30 percent reduction in adolescent and adult obesity in breastfed versus non-breastfed infants,” the academy said.
Studies show breast-fed children are better able to socialize and make friends, tend to have higher IQs and experience a reduced risk of diabetes, Klemm said.
While the law protects working mothers who choose to feed their children using breast milk, breast-feeding in public remains a source of discomfort to many who simply lack awareness about the practice, Jessica Coleman, administrator for the Grand Junction Supports Breast Feeding Network, said.
“Primarily, what I see as a challenge is for breast-feeding to be more widely accepted and normalized. It just hasn’t been adequately integrated into our culture,” Coleman said.
Cultural objections to breast-feeding have their root in a federal program that pushed baby formula over breast milk starting in the 1940s, Samantha Moe, a certified childbirth educator, said.
During World War II, when women went to work in factories, the only formula available was for women who didn’t breast-feed or who died during childbirth, Moe said.
“Then pediatricians noticed that formula-fed babies grew faster, so the government started an out-and-out campaign promoting formula, telling women that only poor and uneducated women would breast-feed,” she said.
A 70-year-old grandmother told Moe she successfully breast-fed her first child but then stopped because, thanks to the pro-formula marketing campaign, she believed formula would be better.
“That’s how it became culturalized. It became a belief handed down from mothers to daughters that their milk was no good,” Moe said.
Another obstacle to making breast-feeding a normal, accepted practice is the way breasts have been sexualized by the culture, Klemm said.
“Breasts have been used to sell beer, burgers, cars, jewelry — you name it — but let a woman breast-feed in public and people become embarrassed,” Moe said.
“The idea of a baby latched onto something normally used for sex makes some Americans uncomfortable,” she said.
Klemm, Coleman and Moe all stressed that the choice between formula and breast milk is for mothers to make and no one else.
“I don’t want to judge anyone for the parenting choices they make for their children,” Coleman said.
“We need to respect moms and let them know they do have a choice,” Klemm said.
“Ultimately this is a woman’s choice,” Moe said. “If they are truly uncomfortable with it or their partners are uncomfortable with it, then it’s not going to be a good breast-feeding experience for them.”
Free assistance is available for employers needing to implement a lactation support program. Visit cobfc.org or call the Mesa County Breastfeeding Task Force at 248-6915.
For a tool kit provided by the Mesa County Health Department, call 254-4102.