The Harton Regional Medical Center (HRMC) Womens Center joined the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and breastfeeding advocates in more than 175 countries worldwide last Wednesday in celebrating 2014 World Breastfeeding Week.
During a ladies luncheon at the hospital, guest speaker Dr. Ginny Barton of Tullahoma OB/GYN Associates spoke to new and expectant mothers about the importance of breastfeeding to newborn development.
Both UNICEF and the World Health Organization recommend breastfeeding for the first six months of life because they believe it provides optimal health benefits, Barton said, and benefits have been shown for as long as 12 months. But breastfeeding rates declined significantly over the last century until, by the 1950s, the practice was considered old-fashioned and done only by the uneducated, lower class.
That’s a stigma that has taken time to overcome, said HRMC Director or Marketing Ava Lynch. “It was related to your family’s worth. If someone was breastfeeding, it was because they couldn’t provide nourishment in any other way. They couldn’t afford formula.”
Since the 1960s, though, there has been a resurgence in the practice.
By 2011, according to the latest CDC breastfeeding report card, 79 percent of newborn infants had breastfed or been fed breast milk at least once as health professionals across the globe tout the benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and child.
For the mother, Barton says, breastfeeding aids in weight loss, helps the uterus return to its normal size through oxytocin release and delays the return of menstruation.
For the baby, breastfeeding provides optimal nutritional content and antibodies that protect the baby from infection. Additionally, breast milk is easy for a baby to digest, so breastfed babies have less gastrointestinal distress and are less likely to become obese later in life.
For mother and baby alike, the skin-to-skin contact promotes bonding. Also, the contact helps with the mother’s milk production, regulates the baby’s temperature and heartbeat and improves the baby’s willingness to “latch on” as they hear and feel the mother’s heartbeat as they had in the womb.
Such contact also helps relieve post-partum depression.
Barton also points out that breast milk is convenient to carry and is environmentally friendly, creating no packaging waste.
Despite all the benefits of breastfeeding, Barton says, it’s not easy.
The percentage of babies that are exclusively breastfed drops considerably throughout the first year. Only about 19 percent are exclusively breastfed at six months.
“You hear how great it is, but nobody ever talks about how difficult it is,” said Barton. “Be patient. Never hesitate to ask for help.”
It’s important for newly nursing mothers to educate themselves about breastfeeding by reading as much as they can and asking questions, Barton said, but having a support system can be an invaluable tool.
“The first two weeks are the hardest,” volunteered a nursing mother who had found a breastfeeding support group early after childbirth. “Without support, I don’t think I would have stuck it out. If I hadn’t had those women to help me, I don’t think I would have continued.”
As hard as it is, Barton said “when complications pop up, it makes it a million times harder. That’s something a support group would be so beneficial for.”
Nursing mothers in Tullahoma have historically been told to call the Coffee County Health Department or the 24/7 Tennessee Breastfeeding Hotline (855-4BFMOMS) with questions, but local doula Bethany McKinnon announced at the luncheon that she is forming a new Coffee County Breastfeeding Support Group as an additional resource.
McKinnon’s group will meet twice next week, with one daytime and one evening offering, to give pregnant women, mothers, and siblings an opportunity to discuss the benefits and challenges of breastfeeding.
The Coffee County Breastfeeding Support Group will meet at 11 a.m. today (Wednesday), Aug. 13 and at 6 p.m. Thursday in Tullahoma’s Frazier McEwen Park.
More details can be found on the group’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/rootsoflifebirth.
This was Harton’s first year participating in World Breastfeeding Week, which is celebrated the first week of August annually to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.