DIXON – Breastfeeding is a normal and expected way to feed babies.
That’s the message health care professionals in the Sauk Valley and throughout Illinois are trying to communicate to new parents.
In Illinois, more than 75 percent of women breastfeed their children; almost 50 percent continue to breastfeed at 6 months, and more than 25 percent continue at 12 months, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control.
Those numbers mirror the national trend, according to an annual breastfeeding report.
But health care professionals and breastfeeding advocates locally are aiming higher.
Both KSB Hospital in Dixon and CGH Medical Center in Sterling are working to become Baby-Friendly – a designation under the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative of the World Health Organization and UNICEF. FHN Memorial Hospital in Freeport also is seeking the designation.
Hospitals and birthing centers that are Baby-Friendly provide an “optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother-baby bonding,” according to the website for the initiative in the United States.
A significant portion of the work necessary to achieve the Baby-Friendly designation revolves around encouraging breastfeeding among new mothers and babies. Hospitals must employ the 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, which include helping mothers to begin breastfeeding during the “miracle hour” after birth, helping them troubleshoot problems, and providing them resources and support.
“A lot of that has to do with not giving formula in the discharge bags,” said Lora Fassler, a health education coordinator and board-certified lactation consultant at the Lee County Health Department. “The free samples are gone.”
Baby-Friendly hospitals also keep mothers and their babies together more, promote more skin-to-skin contact, and discourage uses of pacifiers and bottles.
Local advocates also are working to support mothers and their babies – with breastfeeding and more – after they leave the hospital.
“We just want moms to know there is support out there,” Fassler said. “So many moms have this glorified picture in their head, … but in reality, after the adrenaline has come down and the newness of the baby has worn off, … they struggle, and they think, ‘What do I do?’
“We want them to know they don’t have to give up. They should call us. We are here to help.”
Mothers who deliver at KSB Hospital receive a brief home visit within a few days of discharge. Those who deliver at CGH Medical Center are asked to bring their babies back a day or two after discharge for a brief visit. Those visits are opportunities for mothers to get help with breastfeeding.
Mothers who qualify for assistance through the Women, Infants, and Children program have access to resources there, too.
The La Leche League, a breastfeeding support organization, also has a local chapter. (The group meets for the last time in person at 10 a.m. at the Lee County Health Department. It will continue online.)
Local event aims to help
Local health-care professionals and breastfeeding advocates hope to deliver their message to expecting parents at a free breastfeeding education event Thursday.
Dr. Pratip Nag, a pediatrician at KSB Hospital, will discuss the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies, as well as inform mothers of the realistic expectations they should have for breastfeeding
The American Academy of Pediatrics, among other leading health organizations, recommends breastfeeding as the best for babies. The AAP says babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months and until at least 12 months if both the mother and baby are willing to continue breastfeeding.
Breast milk is considered the best nutrition for infants; it is high in fat and low in protein, and it is easy to digest, Nag said. A mother’s milk also changes as her baby’s nutritional needs change, he added.
Babies who are breastfed are protected against infections, allergies, and a number of chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and obesity, Nag said.
Breastfeeding helps mothers lose their “baby weight” quickly, but safely, Nag said.
Mothers who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers, as well as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, he said. They also have higher bone density, he added.
The conversation about breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding is one that parents – and their pediatrician – should have early, Nag said.
“The hardest thing for me is when I have never met the parents,” he said. “The first time I see the parents is in the hospital, and by that time, it’s a little too late to talk about it. They’ve made up their minds by then.”
Parents who elect to breastfeed their children should then discuss with their pediatrician or with a lactation consultant the ins and outs of breastfeeding, Nag said.
“It’s actually hard to do initially, but very natural and easy later on, as long as you have the information and resources,” he said. “You cannot approach it with anxiety. And you have to have support.”
Events such as the upcoming free Breastfeed for Health event aim to ease fears and instill confidence among new parents – both those who choose to breastfeed their babies and those who might be unsure about it.
“Just like anything in parenting, it’s a delicate conversation to have,” Nag said, “but it’s important to have it early.”
The free Breastfeed for Health event, sponsored by the Lee County Health Department and KSB Hospital, is from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Elks Lodge, 1279 Franklin Grove Road in Dixon.
Vendors and community organizations will be on hand from 6 to 7 p.m. and pediatrician Dr. Pratip Nag will give a presentation and answer questions from 7 to 7:45 p.m.
Registration is strongly encouraged, but not required.
Register at www.ksbhospital.com or 815-284-3371, ext. 111.