WILMINGTON — Despite many advantages to breast-feeding, only a minority of mothers do it for six months, a year or two years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.
So, Renee Quallen and her staff encourage pregnant women to think about breast-feeding in the first trimester, support nursing mothers, and offer classes, lactation consultants and a support group.
Quallen is the breast-feeding coordinator and director of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) at the Clinton County Health Department.
She estimates that 90 percent of what the department does is support and encourage nursing mothers.
One of the biggest obstacles nursing mothers face, according to Quallen, is returning to work. In fact, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action made working women and breast-feeding the focus of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, which ends August 7.
Quallen said returning to work risks decreasing a woman’s milk supply unless she can feed her baby or pump breast milk. She said mothers need employers who understand their need to pump regularly every two to three hours, which, she said, isn’t “any different than having a lunch break and two other breaks a day.”
Mothers also face not having a space for women to pump breast milk in private. In some workplaces, the only semi-private places are bathrooms.
“We don’t want to cook lunch in a bathroom, do we?” Quallen asked. “We wouldn’t want to make our baby’s lunch in a bathroom either.”
As the mother of three breast-fed children, she experienced firsthand the difficulties in returning to work and, in her case, school.
“I was right out of college and going back to college,” she said. She saw bottles of formula and said, “This stuff costs $15 – $16 a can, I can’t really afford to do that. I have college to pay for.”
Breast-feeding was new territory for her, as Quallen came from a family that didn’t breast-feed. Driving from Wilmington to Wright State University in Dayton, she was tempted to switch to formula.
“That’s a challenge when you’re away and you have to pump in a bathroom or in a car,” she said. But, her support network, including her husband, helped her.
“It was just so much easier in the long run,” she said. “Those first two weeks can be challenging. … But you just have you and your baby – that’s all you need. You don’t need stuff” like a bottle, water, a can of formula and a way to warm it all.
Quallen said creating a workplace where women can breast-feed or pump is possible in most workplaces.
When one of her employees had a baby, she said, “It was amazing how efficient my employee was when she had her baby here and how easy it was to integrate” breastfeeding into her work schedule.
After the baby began staying at home, Quallen said it was an easy process of giving that employee time to pump milk.
The work by the entire health department to create a breast-feeding friendly workplace won it the Ohio Lactation Consultant Association’s “most breastfeeding supportive employer” certificate.
Quallen thinks it also helped the public.
“It was so good for the community to come in and see someone breast-feeding their baby and it being normal,” she said. “It releases those taboos.”
Breast-feeding in public areas is difficult, Quallen said, because of those taboos.
While she thinks public breast-feeding doesn’t expose any more skin than bikinis and mail-order catalogs do, she encourages anything that helps women breast-feed comfortably.
“Making it feel normal, making women feel comfortable about (breast-feeding) and having access to a comfortable, private place for those who may not feel comfortable,” are all possible solutions.
Breast-feeding is important, Quallen said, for the many health benefits to both the child and the mother.
The World Health Organization says breast-feeding not only contains all of a child’s needed nutrients, but also provides antibodies that protect babies from common diseases.
WHO recommends breast-feeding exclusively for six months and to complement it with other foods while breast-feeding for up to two years. WHO estimates that 800,000 lives could be saved if those recommendations were followed.
Mothers have a lower risk of diabetes, post-partum depression and breast and ovarian cancer, according to WHO, and children are more intelligent, less likely to be overweight and less likely to have diabetes.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.