By ANJANA SCHROEDER
Capital News Service
LANSING – Cultural shifts are encouraging and teaching mothers the benefits of breastfeeding despite challenges in gathering community support, according to health experts.
Julie Lothamer, a lactation consultant for the Michigan Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, said, “Fifteen years ago moms didn’t want to hear about breastfeeding at all but, now at least they’re interested in getting information.”
There are health benefits for both baby and mother, experts say. Babies who are breastfed have a reduced risk of becoming overweight or obese and getting childhood leukemia, allergies, ear infections and types 1 and 2 diabetes.
The program is part of the Department of Community Health.
The breastfeeding coordinator for WIC, Kathy Daly-Koziel, said, “The primary voice for breastfeeding has been WIC, but we are building in terms of partnerships.”
One of WIC’s local partners is the Michigan Breastfeeding Network, where Lothamer is treasurer.
WIC’s main avenue for promoting breastfeeding has been a multimedia campaign including bus ads, billboards and radio and TV commercials emphasizing the importance and health benefits of breastfeeding for at least six months.
Daly-Koziel said WIC has received “calls from lactation consultants and nurses saying their clients heard about breastfeeding from a WIC advertisement.”
Other new initiatives in the state would designate more breastfeeding-friendly hospitals that prioritize the mother-baby relationship.
Hospitals that become baby-friendly would assume that mothers are breastfeeding unless they say otherwise, according to Sandy Baker, a lactation consultant at St. John Providence Hospital in Southfield.
Warren-based St. John Hospital and Medical Center received a $1.2 million grant from the WK Kellogg Foundation to support its Mother Nurture Project so its hospitals can be designated baby-friendly.
Baker said it is a long process, sometimes taking years, to become baby-friendly. However, “just because hospitals are not baby-friendly doesn’t mean they don’t promote breastfeeding.”
St. John Providence in Southfield is promoting breastfeeding immediately after delivery, which also encourages skin-to-skin contact, she said.
She said there are also outpatient breastfeeding clinics with peer counselors and lactation consultants for mothers who want help and support after being discharged.
Daly-Koziel said, “Breastfeeding is what has supported the human species, and when formula was introduced, people started thinking, ‘oh well, if I get formula, that must be pretty good stuff.’ But there is no comparison between formula and breast milk.”
Bill Kerans is the marketing coordinator at Memorial Medical Center in Ludington. He said, “We definitely do support and promote breastfeeding.”
The center offers childbirth education classes that emphasize information on breastfeeding, he said.
Lothamer said, “Michigan doesn’t have legislation protecting breastfeeding,” while other states have laws allowing women to breastfeed whenever and wherever they need to.
However, Michigan does protect women from criminal charges for indecent exposure for breastfeeding in public, Lothamer said.
She said some businesses are taking the initiative to make breastfeeding easier for women. For example, a Walmart in Monroe converted one of its sitting rooms into a nursing room.
“The more people hear about breastfeeding and the importance of it, the more normal and accepted it will be all around,” Lothamer said.
Daly-Koziel said, “When you look at breastfeeding, it’s really not a lifestyle, it is a public health issue” because millions of dollars are saved through preventive health for both mothers and babies.
Mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer and osteoporosis, Daly-Koziel said.
The peer-counseling program at WIC gives women a person to call for help with breastfeeding and other pre- or post-pregnancy questions.
Daly-Koziel said, “When we have a peer counselor working with a mom, she’s talking to someone who’s been on WIC, who’s been faced with the same financial challenges, and she can talk one-on-one with someone.”
WIC also encourages clean and private places for mothers to pump breast milk at work, especially those returning to work soon after giving birth.
Daly-Koziel said, “Not everybody has a negative attitude. A lot of time employers don’t know that their employees want to pump at work so they can come back to work.”
However, women should talk to their employers about pumping at work before delivery, she said.
By ANJANA SCHROEDER