MERCED -- Jessie Coggin, a Merced mother of two, didn't know what was wrong when her newborn daughter, Sophia, wouldn't cooperate at feeding time.
Coggin was determined to breast-feed Sophia, but the baby girl wasn't drinking enough milk. And she'd get sick after feeding.
After she threw up, little Sophia would want more food, which began to take a toll on her mom's mind and body.
"She was biting me. It was painful," Coggin said. "She would eat and get sick over and over again.
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"I called Emily, crying, and luckily she made a house call," Coggin recalled this week.
Emily Lindsey, a board-certified lactation consultant, came to the rescue. She figured out that Sophia suffers from an intolerance to corn and wheat, which were being passed through her mother's milk and making her sick.
It's a story that's been played out dozens -- if not hundreds -- of times at Lindsey's one-woman clinical practice on Alpine Drive.
Lindsey has worked with hundreds of clients, ranging from teens to older women, rich and poor, black, white, brown and yellow. She often sees mothers just once, to correct small issues, but she also serves as a regular sounding board for previous clients. "I have her on speed-dial now," Coggin laughed.
Her work, and that of others, is crucial in America's battle against obesity. Breastfeeding is one of the most critical interventions against obesity throughout a lifetime, said Laurie True, executive director of the California WIC Association.
Children who are breast-fed exclusively for the first six months of life are exposed to anitbodies in their mother's milk that make them healthier and tend to weigh less because they control when they stop drinking, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Some simply can't
To be sure, some disagree with the notion that healthy babies and formula-filled bottles don't mix. Among them, for example, are a subset of women who simply can't breast-feed for health reasons.
In Merced County, a growing number of activists have set their sights on creating a healthier, leaner community where more women who can breast-feed, do.
To boost Merced's wellness, Lindsey opened up shop in 2006. In the years since, she's coaxed mothers through problems with sore nipples, poor milk production and has even detected medical problems in their children. The illnesses ranged from ankyloglossia (a condition in which the tongue is held to the bottom of the mouth by a membrane called the frenulum) to cleft palates.
Here and outside Merced, she's become an ambassadress for more breast-feeding. Lindsey and other local leaders are keenly aware that building a healthy life must start at birth if today's children are to grow healthier, leaner and lead longer lives.
In recent months, several reports have been released that directed attention to breast-feeding as a way to improve a baby's health: An April study, published in the journal Pediatrics, concluded that the United States could save $13 billion a year in medical costs and prevent more than 900 deaths if 90 percent of U.S. families breast-fed exclusively for six months.
The study examined 10 pediatric diseases that are less commonly found in breast-fed babies, then estimated how many hospital visits, instances of illness and deaths could be avoided if breast-feeding were more common and prolonged.