The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

August 1, 2013

Moms to highlight breast-feeding with weekend event

JOPLIN, Mo. — Tracy Dennis decided she was going to try breast-feeding when she was pregnant with her first child nearly a dozen years ago.

It stuck with her, and the Joplin mother of four has exclusively breast-fed all of her children, with the two youngest still on breast milk. She plans to join breast-feeding moms across the country this weekend in an attempt to draw attention to the practice.

The Big Latch On, set for Friday and Saturday, is an international initiative in which groups of women meet at registered locations to breast-feed their children. The purpose, organizers say, is to raise awareness of breast-feeding and to increase support for women who choose to breast-feed.

Dennis and a group of local mothers will host a Big Latch On event beginning at 9:45 a.m. Saturday at Center Creek Park in Carl Junction.

"I hope it can encourage moms that maybe are uncomfortable to breast-feed or encourages moms that think they can't," she said. "It's also wonderful to meet a group of ladies who do breast-feed. As you breast-feed, there's all kinds of questions that come up that you don't know that somebody else might know."

The Latch On coincides with World Breast-Feeding Week, which begins today and is an initiative of the World Alliance for Breast-Feeding Action.

Breast-feeding rates are on the rise in the United States. Breast-feeding initiation rates at birth rose from 74.6 percent in 2008 to 76.9 percent in 2009, the latest years for which data were available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast-feeding at six months increased from 44.3 percent to 47.2 percent, and at 12 months from 23.8 percent to 25.5 percent, the center reported.

Benefits of breast-feeding for an infant are numerous, said Arldean Alejandro, lactation consultant for Freeman Health System. Babies who are breast-fed exclusively for six months have a decreased chance for diseases such as respiratory and ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome, allergies, diabetes and leukemia, she said.

Benefits to mothers include decreased postpartum blood loss, quicker post-pregnancy weight loss and a decreased chance of developing postpartum depression, she said.

Breast-feeding is not without its challenges. Alejandro said a mother's lack of support is one of the biggest challenges she could face when trying to nurse her infant.

"I've heard it a number of times where the grandmother of the baby said, 'I bottle-fed you, and you turned out OK,'" she said.

New moms sometimes also have a misperception that breast-feeding will naturally be easy, but it actually is a learning process for both mother and child, Alejandro said.

Breast-feeding may not be an option for everyone. Women with HIV or who take drugs shouldn't breast-feed, Alejandro said, while some decide it just isn't right for them or their child.

Others are deterred by public criticism of breast-feeding, which stems in part from the largely American viewpoint that breasts are sexual objects, Alejandro said. She said generations of women who bottle-fed their children have also created a discomfort with public breast-feeding.

"Most moms are very discreet about their breast-feeding, but they shouldn't be made to feel as though they are doing something wrong," she said.

Dennis breast-fed her older children, now 11 and 5, until they were 2 years old, in accordance with recommendations from the World Health Organization. She said she plans to do the same with her 14-month-old twins, who eat solid food supplemented with breast milk.

She said she has faced her share of challenges. Her oldest child initially had trouble latching, while her second-oldest had "reflex issues."

But her children were generally healthy as they grew, with few infections, she said. She also connected with her children in a way that she might not have otherwise, she said.

"I just really enjoyed breast-feeding," she said. "I enjoyed the closeness."

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