Breastfeeding is critical to the beginning of an infant's health and well-being, according to local experts, and mothers in Merced County are less likely to breastfeed compared to others throughout the state.
“There are so many benefits for the baby,” said Cindy Valencia, program manager for the Merced County Public Health Department. “Babies are born to be breastfed.”
The rate of mothers exclusively breastfeeding has been consistently lower here than the state’s average, according to a report by the Merced County Department of Public Health, the 2016 Community Health Assessment.
Of the mothers who gave birth at one of the county’s two hospitals, Mercy Medical Center and Memorial Hospital, 62.3 percent of mothers exclusively breastfed and 92 percent did some type of breastfeeding, according to 2016 data from the California Department of Public Health.
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The data showed that mothers at Mercy Medical Center in Merced had about a 10 percent higher rate of exclusive breastfeeding than mothers at Memorial Hospital in Los Banos.
To increase the rates of exclusive breastfeeding in the county and provide more resources to women, the Merced County Department of Public Health is launching a facility that is the first of its kind in the county on Friday, Valencia said.
The Latch Clinic, located inside the Merced County Department of Public Health, 260 E 15th St., is designed to be a form of additional support for mothers and a “resource for moms who want to succeed at breastfeeding.”
Lactation specialists will provide breastfeeding education and problem solving to combat some of the challenges, Valencia said, like discomfort or pain, struggles with making sure the baby latches and producing enough milk.
Some of the biggest issues mothers face is not having support or knowing where to go to find it, said Angela Waskiewicz, a La Leche League leader who is currently working on becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, or IBCLC.
“In my opinion, some struggles new mothers face is not having realistic expectations of what breastfeeding will be like,” Waskiewicz said in an email to the Sun-Star. “It is very common for a breastfeeding mother to be given a can of formula instead of the number of an IBCLC or a La Leche League Leader.”
Breastfeeding also has the potential to benefit the health of a whole community, Waskiewicz said. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to become obese and develop childhood cancers and diabetes.
Breast milk is made specifically for babies, Waskiewicz added, so it’s easy for them to digest. The risk of contracting allergies and illnesses like asthma are also lower, she said.
“Before a mother even recognizes signs that her baby is going to become ill, the baby's saliva is transferred to her body through her nipple,” Waskiewicz said. “Her body begins producing antibodies to fight off whatever illness the baby is about to catch.”
When it comes to mom, Waskiewicz said, breastfeeding saves money, time, lowers the risk of developing reproductive cancers, promotes bonding, fights postpartum depression and helps to burn calories.
Increasing the rates of breastfeeding in Merced County will improve the health of the community, Valencia said, and the Merced County Department of Public Health is aiming to open more Latch Clinics throughout the county.
“Employers and community organization play a roll to show that breastfeeding is supported and becomes the norm,” Valencia said.
The opening of the Latch Clinic will be on Friday at 4 p.m. Tours will be offered. Lactation specialists are available at 209-381-1023.