Originally created 06/27/04

The breast feeding debate



At only two weeks old, Charles Robert Futo had already become a connoisseur of fine dining.

His preferences are clear, said his mother Tiffany Futo, Charles would much rather have the milk from his mother than from a bottle.

"It's good for the baby and it's so much more convenient to have it on the spot, rather than have to warm a bottle," she said. "And he likes it a whole lot more."

Milk from a mother is a readily available food source. But keeping baby satisfied can be tricky, particularly when mom is working, or is brave enough to step out of the house. Mothers who know say its a matter of preparation and planning.

But in a society that has moved away from breast-feeding, and in some instances, frowns upon it, there are more than just logistics to overcome.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in 1995, 59.4 percent of women in the United States were breast-feeding either exclusively or in combination with formula feeding at the time of hospital discharge. But six months later, only 21.6 percent of mothers were nursing, and many of these were supplementing with formula.

Nursing mothers admit that feeding a baby in public can be a matter of mind over stares.

Mrs. Futo, whose mother breast fed her, has no qualms about nursing her baby in public.

"I just sit right there at the table and nurse him," she said. "Most people take a glance, but don't say anything. It's just natural to me. Some people I've talked to are really embarrassed about it. But it's just natural. We've all got to eat."

She said she has walked around the mall nursing her baby.

"I've got friends of mine who can't believe I'd nurse while walking around. They say, "I'd be so embarrassed.' But people have been nursing for hundreds of years. There's not a law against it."

Joan Hauff, R.N., worked at University Hospital for 18 years and left her job in 1998 to stay home with her two children, now 18 and 12. Both of them were breast fed, and after her first child was born, Mrs. Huff worked part time teaching classes on how to breast feed.

"There are good things you are giving them - optimal nutrition," Mrs. Hauff said. "Because a mother's milk is made specifically for her baby, they get immune defenses, extra vitamins, calories - everything is in your breast milk. You spend a lot of time breast-feeding, but on the other hand, you spend a lot of cuddle time with your child."

She said expectant mothers planning to nurse should take a class and learn all they can before-hand.

"Have your resources in place before you begin breast-feeding," she said.""After you get home, that's when most mom's want to give up, when they don't have the right resources to call. Most problems can be solved."

A mother who is skilled at breast-feeding is more likely to feel at-ease when feeding her baby in public.

"Some women don't feel comfortable doing this, but if you are cuddling your baby, you can make it real inconspicuous if you are breast feeding with a blanket," Mrs. Hauff said. "It takes good planning: button down dresses or blouses, two piece outfits that pull up. It's a little more accepted than it was 10 years ago. The key is education, for moms and dads, as well as the public."

Julie Menger, the mother of an infant and a toddler, is now a La Leche League of Augusta counselor. Both she and her brother were breast fed, so for her it was the natural thing to do. But it wasn't always easy.

Two weeks after her first son was born, she ran into difficulties. She had him by Cesarean-section, and the antibiotics transferred to the baby causing thrush - a fungal infection in the baby's mouth. Mrs. Menger said it caused a burning or stabbing pain in her breast during and after breast-feeding.

That's when she went to her first La Leche League meeting.

"I got the support and information from them that kept me going, and support from my husband helped me persevere through the problems I had," Mrs. Menger said.

She said she has no qualms about breast-feeding in public and believes if more women breast fed in public it would become more accepted.

"I haven't heard of any mom nursing in public who was completely exposed," Mrs. Menger said. "Most are nursing discreetly. People think they are just holding the baby and the baby is sleeping. A woman has a right to feed their baby wherever she is. If anyone were to confront me, I would ask them: would you rather have a screaming baby or a quiet baby?

"Some people might say, 'Go to the bathroom.' Would you eat your dinner in the bathroom? I don't think that's an appropriate place to feed a baby. Some people's clothing reveals more than a mother breast-feeding their baby."

Breast-feeding can also pose challenges for working mothers. Mrs. Hauff recommends using a breast pump to express milk. The kind to buy would depend upon the needs of the mother, she said. At the hospital where she worked mothers had access to an electric pump.

"It's very quick," she said. "Being a nurse, we didn't have a lot of time."

Working and breast feeding can be tricky, but manageable.

"They have to find time during the day to pump their breast milk, but the baby will probably be healthier, so there's less sick time a mother will have to take to be home with the baby," Mrs. Hauff said.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, research shows that breast feeding decreases incidences of diarrhea, lower respiratory infection, ear infections, bacterial meningitis, botulism and urinary tract infection, to name a few.

There are also studies that show a possible protective effect against sudden infant death syndrome, insulin-dependent diabetes, Crohn's disease, lymphoma, allergic diseases and other chronic digestive diseases. Breast-feeding has also been related to possible enhancement of cognitive development. "The significantly lower incidence of illness in the breast fed infant allows the parents more time for attention to siblings and other family duties and reduces parental absence from work and lost income," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics policy, Breast-feeding and the Use of Human Milk.

It takes 15 to 30 minutes each time to express milk (usually twice a day).

Women who chose this route will want to invest in a good breast pump. An electric double breast pump is more efficient and faster. Some coast around $200, but many medical supply stores also rent them.

If that seems like a lot, then consider the cost of formula. The economic benefits to the family are significant. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it has been estimated that the 1993 cost of purchasing infant formula for the first year after birth was $855.

But breast-feeding can be demanding for a working mother. Breast fed babies tend to feed more often than formula-fed babies, usually 8 to 12 times a day, because their stomachs empty much more quickly because human milk is easier to digest. Newborns typically nurse every couple of hours day or night.

Mrs. Menger said sleeping with your baby can be a way to make feeding and sleeping more convenient.

"Mother's who aren't drugged or on alcohol are very aware of their baby's and their space," she said. "For a lot of moms that's a solution. If moms can master lying down and breast feeding, it's a dream come true."

The World Health Organization recommends breast feeding for at least two years. The American Academy of Pediatrics says at least one year or as long as the mother chooses. Typically the average weaning age worldwide is four or five years old.

Mrs. Menger said the medical community should do more to educate not just new mothers, but young women and the general public about the advantages of breast feeding.

"Everyone is wearing a pink ribbon, but have you ever really heard that breast feeding can reduce your risk of breast cancer?," she said. "People have to think differently about breasts and breast-feeding. Instead of moms getting chastised at the mall, people should say, "Wow, that's awesome."'

Tips for public nursing

Modesty doesn't have to keep you and your baby at home or hidden in restrooms. These tips from the La Leche League can help you overcome the difficulties of nursing in public.

A loose-fitting shirt or top that lifts or can be unbuttoned from the waist will let you feed your baby without exposing your breast, because the baby will cover the nipple and lower breast. You can also buy (or sew your own) special nursing blouses, dresses, or shirts, with hidden slits and panels. (Ads for such patterns and clothes are often found in La Leche League's magazine, New Beginnings, and other parenting publications.)

If you wear a nursing bra, it's easiest to breast feed discreetly if the bra can be pulled up or unfastened and re-fastened with one hand.

A shawl or small blanket, you can cover the baby and any part of your midriff that might be exposed.

Sitting near a wall or corner will provide the most privacy. Restaurant booths can give even more privacy, especially if another adult sits on the aisle.

Cut slits in the front of an old t-shirt and wear this shirt under a large shirt or sweater. Then, when you pull up the sweater to nurse you still have the T-shirt covering up your midriff. In addition to being discreet it's also warmer in the winter.

Use a baby sling. When the baby is in the "cradle" position to nurse, the fabric of the pouch can be pulled up over the baby, protecting him, and any of your skin, from exposure.

The La Leche League meets the second Wednesday of each month at 10 a.m. at St. Mary's Catholic Church at Monte Sano and McDowell, in the nursery. For information call 706-737-2405.

Melissa Hall is a staff writer for The Augusta Chronicle and the Columbia News Times. She and her husband Clay have two children, Hollis, 13, and Henry, 5.