Telicia Gardner, of Chicago, plans to breast-feed her son, Josiah Neal, until he is a year old — for several reasons.
"It's healthier for the baby, cheaper than buying formula and it's helping me lose weight," said Gardner, who delivered on June 1 at Loyola University Hospital in Maywood.
Thanks to support and encouragement from the hospital staff, said Gardner, she is breast-feeding now despite health problems that prevented Josiah from nursing at first.
To help increase the rate of breast-feeding, Loyola joined 90 hospitals nationwide that are working toward the "Baby Friendly" designation through a program sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality.
The hospitals are in states with the lowest breast-feeding rates and highest rates of supplementation with formula by hospital staffs.
Although most new moms want to breast-feed and are aware of the health advantages, they are not likely to continue if they do not get support from the hospital staff, said Dr. Paula White, a Loyola OB-GYN.
"It's all about educating and supporting the mom, her family and the staff," said White.
For the baby, breast-feeding reduces the risks of childhood obesity, diabetes, respiratory and ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome. For the mom, it lowers the risks of breast and ovarian cancer, and of postpartum bleeding.
But not every new parent and health care professional knows this, said White. "Some moms belong to a culture where being able to afford formula is a status symbol," she said. "Or, they plan to bottle-feed just because 'That's what mom did.' There are still people who believe formula is better, which is what they were taught in the 1950s."
The first few hours of the baby's life are critical for breast-feeding, said White. "Not every baby wants to latch (onto the breast)," she said. "A bottle nipple is easier. So if he gets a choice, he prefers the bottle." Unless there is a medical reason, a Baby Friendly hospital does not give the baby a bottle or pacifier.
The staff explains to the mom why her baby wants to "cluster feed," explained White. "They want to feed all the time at first, which makes some moms think they aren't getting enough milk and they should give them bottles, too," she said.
Meanwhile, the staff learns another Baby Friendly tenet — "rooming in." The baby stays in his mom's room 24 hours a day so he can feed on demand.
The staff talks to the family about the father's role. "Some moms say they want to quit breast-feeding so the father can do the 2 a.m. feeding," said White. "But he can help by changing the baby's diaper and bringing the baby to the mom."
Illinois ranks No. 34 in terms of state breast-feeding rates, said the CDC. Here, 70.6 percent of babies are breast-fed, compared with 74.6 percent nationwide.
As the baby gets older, the percentages drop. Only 14.3 percent of Illinois moms breast-feed their 6-month-olds exclusively, compared with 14.8 percent nationwide, said the CDC.
"Hospital support for the new mom is the most important (variable) in breast-feeding statistics, especially when it comes to duration of breast-feeding," said Laurence Grummer-Strawn, captain with the U.S. Public Health Service in the CDC. "Rates are also tied to education levels (of the moms), laws about breast-feeding in public places and at the workplace, and access to lactation consultants and to mother-to-mother support."
Currently, Illinois has two Baby-Friendly hospitals — St. John's Hospital in Springfield and Pekin Hospital in Pekin.
In addition to Loyola, two other Illinois hospitals are working toward the Baby Friendly title — Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago and Rockford Memorial Hospital in Rockford.
Nationwide, according to the CDC's 2011 Vital Signs report, 96 percent of hospitals do not have policies and practices that fully support breast-feeding. At 80 percent of hospitals, babies are given formula when not medically necessary, said the report.
Overall, nationwide, breast-feeding rates have risen slowly but steadily since the CDC drafted its first Breastfeeding Report Card in 2007.
The states without any Baby Friendly hospitals are spread across the country, but most are south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The states with the highest percentages of Baby Friendly hospitals are Alaska and Nebraska.
If Gardner can breast-feed, anyone can, she said. Health problems kept Josiah in the hospital and in a ventilator for two weeks, so she stayed at the nearby Ronald McDonald House in Maywood at night and at his side at Loyola during the day.
"I pumped my milk until he learned to latch," Gardner explained. "Because all he could use at first was a tiny bottle, it took him a while to learn to breast-feed."
Gardner praised the Loyola nurses for their help. "They kept reinforcing what I knew — that he should learn to breast-feed," she said. "They helped him relax and find the right positions. Finally, at six weeks, he learned."
The operator of a home day care facility, Gardner keeps Josiah with her, so he breast-feeds at will.
"Stick with it" is Gardner's advice to other new moms. "You can do it. There are so many advantages, just for the baby's health alone. It's worth it."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun