HED:A healthy start
By M. Scott Morris
Connie Tennison wanted to breastfeed her little girl, but things didn't work quite right.
"I didn't feel like she was getting enough milk, so I put her on formula," said Tennison, a 25-year-old Booneville resident.
Looking back, Tennison said she could have breastfed her daughter, M.J., if only she had known more about breastfeeding at the time.
"I had no support. There was no one to ask questions," Tennison said.
That situation has been remedied with her second child, Jonah, an 8-month-old boy who's a stranger to formula. After meeting with a bona fide lactation specialist, Tennison learned the ins and outs of breastfeeding.
Tennison is so thrilled with the chance to breastfeed her son that she serves as a peer counselor, teaching other women about providing their children with natural nutrition.
"It's a wonderful experience, I think, for any mother. If they don't want to breastfeed, they need to get more information before making a decision," Tennison said. "It's just the satisfaction of knowing my child is getting the best. There's a bond that can't be taken away. It's just wonderful."
Mississippi is one of 10 states participating in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) National Breastfeeding Promotion Project.
The goal of the program is to encourage WIC participants to breastfeed their children, according to Rosemary Chism, breastfeeding coordinator with the Mississippi Department of Health, District II, WIC program.
"Because the breastfeeding rate is so low in Mississippi, they figured if it worked here, it would work everywhere," Chism said.
Studies show that breastfed babies generally have fewer ear infections, less gastrointestinal disease and lower incidence of allergies because they benefit from their mother's immunity to disease.
One study conducted in 1988 suggests that children who are breastfed for at least four months can have overall reduced rates of childhood cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma.
There is also evidence to suggest that breastfeeding reduces a woman's chance of developing breast cancer later in life.
"There are just excellent benefits to breastfeeding for the mother and the baby," said Dr. Dick White, a Tupelo obstetrician-gynecologist.
Breastfeeding can also be an economic boon to a growing family. Breast milk is free, while formula can cost between $3 to $10 a can.
"The milk is free. It's there. It's already being produced, and it has better quality than what you can get by buying formula," White said.
During the '60s and '70s, the use of formula spread. White said that trend is beginning to shift as the benefits of breastfeeding are becoming known.
"Women are becoming more interested and more willing to make sacrifices in order to continue breastfeeding," said White, adding that woman are also more in a position to get time off during work to express breast milk with a breast pump.
One factor inhibiting breastfeeding is the lack of knowledge. That's where people like Robin Griffith come into the picture. Griffith is a lactation specialist at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Booneville.
"Babies are born knowing what to do, but many women don't know. Our culture has changed. Before, we could watch our mothers, aunts and sisters. Now, we're having to fill in," Griffith said of her fellow lactation specialists.
Believe it or not, breastfeeding is a community issue, Chism said. The WIC program's slogan "Loving support makes breastfeeding work" reflects the community's role in furthering the practice of breastfeeding.
"A mother needs to feel comfortable when she goes to feed her child in public," Chism said.
Child care workers also need to be educated about breast milk, which smells and looks different from formula.
"There have been cases where day care workers thought the (expressed) breast milk was spoiled and threw it away," Chism said.
Education is the key, and it's becoming more readily available, Chism said. Though WIC's breastfeeding program is strictly for WIC clients, there are other groups, including the La Leche League International, that are spreading the word about breastfeeding.
"Whether the mother decides to breastfeed or not, it's her choice. That mother is going to be the best mother she can be," Chism said. "We just want to expose mothers to information about breastfeeding so they can make an informed decision."