The Merced County Breastfeeding Coalition recognized 29 mothers who have made the commitment to breast-feeding during its first lactation graduation on Tuesday.
The awards and luncheon event was held in conjunction with World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated Aug. 1-7.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breast-feeding is the optimal source of nutrition through the first year of life. Experts recommend exclusively breast-feeding for the first six months and continued breast-feeding for at least the first year while solid foods are introduced.
During Tuesday’s event, families heard from doctors and lactation specialists on the importance and benefits of breast-feeding.
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Dr. Sima Asadi, a pediatrician and perinatologist at Children’s Hospital Central California in Madera and Mercy Medical Center, shared her personal experience with breast-feeding. During her first pregnancy, Asadi said, she struggled for several weeks before successfully breast-feeding.
“I have a pretty distinct compassion for moms in general,” Asadi said, “but if I can do it, anyone can do it.”
One piece of advice Asadi gives mothers who are having trouble lactating is to remove themselves from noisy and distracting environments. “Shut it all off – the voices, the Internet ... try to find a quiet place for you and your infant.”
Mothers should remember that “formula is formula,” Asadi added. Nothing that comes in a can or a bottle can be as good or as healthy as breast milk, she said.
And the nutritional benefits of breast milk are numerous for both the mother and child, said Dr. Eva Balint, medical director at Central California Alliance for Health.
“Breast milk provides the perfect nutrition for babies,” she said. The mix of proteins, fat and vitamins strengthens the infant’s immune system, helping reduce infections and visits to the emergency room, Balint said.
“Studies show that if every child in the U.S. was breast-fed, that would prevent about 900 deaths in a year,” she said.
For mothers, studies show, breast-feeding helps them reduce stress and recover quicker after giving birth. It can also reduce the risk of breast cancer, according to some research.
Breast-feeding can also save families money. A 12-ounce can of baby formula can run close to $20. Formula is often sold in packs; a six-pack of formula costs about $95.
Supervising Public Health Nurse Regina Vittore said the coalition recently surveyed 288 mothers in Merced and surrounding counties about their experience with breast-feeding.
The data revealed that 76 percent of the women spoke to their health care provider about breast-feeding. Eighty-six percent of women had a partner that supported breast-feeding, and 49 percent were encouraged to breast-feed within 15 minutes of giving birth.
Of the women surveyed, 6 percent were told not to breast-feed due to medication or because of an illness.
The most surprising finding, Vittore said, was that 64 percent of women were offered free formula at hospitals, undermining efforts to promote breast-feeding.
According to Jackie Aguas, the breast-feeding coordinator for Women, Infants and Children program in Merced and Mariposa counties, officials have seen an increase in awareness. Currently, 21.3 percent of women in the area breast-feed their infants, zero to 12 months old.
The figure is still below the state average of 25 percent, but a great improvement has been made in the past four years, Aguas said.
The No. 1 reason women give up on breast-feeding is because of lack of support, Aguas said. “This is what’s beautiful about this event; it shows these mothers that their community supports them.”