National awareness: Breastfeeding benefits focus of August

Imagine that someone had invented a new wonder product to feed and immunize everyone on Earth.

Imagine also that it was readily available everywhere, needed no storage or delivery and even reduced the risk of cancer and obesity.

“The wonder product is human breast milk, available to all of us at birth, and sadly many babies are not getting it,” said Jenny Boroff, a registered nurse with Auglaize County’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

Boroff said they want to continue to get the word out about the benefits of breast milk, during the month of August — national breastfeeding awareness month.

“Breastfeeding is normal, natural, safe and promotes optimal health in infants,” Boroff said.

Not only does it lead to a 20 to 30 percent reduced risk of obesity later in life, but it also reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, leads to fewer ear and respiratory infections, a reduced risk of developing diabetes, and an average increase of six points in IQ.

A mother’s benefits from breastfeeding also can last a lifetime. The longer they breastfeed, the lower their body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, triglycerides, waist circumference, and LDL cholesterol. A longer duration of breastfeeding also lowers a mother’s risk of developing type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The latest evidence shows that mothers who exclusively breastfeed get more sleep and have a lower risk of depression.

Boroff said in this time of economic crisis, it also is important to realize that breastfeeding saves money.

According to the Surgeon General’s call to action to support breastfeeding, if 90 percent of families followed the recommended guidelines to exclusively breastfeed their infants for six months, the United States would save $13 billion per year through reductions in medical expenses and other costs. Individual families are estimated to be able to save between $1,200 and $1,500 per year by following recommended breastfeeding practices.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s Breastfeeding Report Card in 2011, 66.8 percent of Ohio women initiate breastfeeding, ranking the state 40th in the nation. Only 8.6 percent of those women in Ohio who initiate breastfeeding are exclusively breastfeeding until the baby is 6-months-old, which is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to provide the optimum health benefits.

“We can do better,” Boroff said. “Mothers encounter many obstacles when attempting to breastfeed, including lack of support and instruction from health care professionals, hospitals and workplaces.

“Everyone can show support for breastfeeding moms,” she said.

Several months ago, Auglaize County’s WIC program added another resource to help its breastfeeding mothers.

Alicia Lensch, who has breastfed three of her own children, began working as a breastfeeding peer helper at the Auglaize County Health Department. In addition to her own experience, she also received training to provide breastfeeding education and basic support.

Lensch said some of her key areas of focus have been offering the support breastfeeding mothers need, helping them get a better start at the hospital, relaying some of her own experience with different situations, and assistance using breast pumps.

“We see high rates of initiating breastfeeding, but then we see those numbers drop,” Boroff said.

She said having someone also on the program who can relate to the mothers differently does help and they plan to provide more follow up to these mothers.

“Our main focus is education beforehand and continuing support after,” Lensch said. “Any chance I have to help a mom breast feet I want to do. Breastfeeding is hard, it’s round-the-clock and they need to know what to expect and the difficulties they may encounter after they go home from the hospital. If I can be that person helping them that I didn’t have it’s worth it to me.”

Another strong push for the department this year is getting businesses and schools to provide the type of facilities they need to for these breastfeeding moms and Health Department officials are asking businesses to place “breastfeeding welcome here” decals on their windows.

“Who prepares their food in a bathroom?” Boroff asked.

She said estimated costs for providing such a room for breastfeeding moms at a workplace could range between $145 for minimum accommodations to $1,055 for maximum accommodations.

“This year we really want to try to work on giving mothers a proper place to pump, not just a bathroom stall,” she said. “They need a special room, somewhere clean, other than a bathroom.”

Boroff said they are working to get such facilities designated at high schools and businesses in the county and have developed letters women in need of such facilities can present to their schools or employers.

In addition to proper facilities for pumping or breastfeeding, Boroff said they are reminding employers that they must provide reasonable break times for nursing mothers.

“We want the mothers to have the extra support they need wherever they are,” Lensch said. “Breastfeeding is hard work and it takes dedication.”

“We want to increase awareness, for breastfeeding to become the social norm, the routine way to feed a baby,” Boroff said. “Everyone can make breastfeeding easier, from families and communities to health care and employers.”