Nurturing naturally

‘Baby-friendly’ caregivers tout benefits of breastfeeding

Heidi Cantrell, mother-baby outpatient manager at Enloe Medical Center, shows some of the items to facilitate feeding offered in the maternity ward boutique.

Heidi Cantrell, mother-baby outpatient manager at Enloe Medical Center, shows some of the items to facilitate feeding offered in the maternity ward boutique.

Photo by Elizabeth Castillo

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For information on feeding for newborns, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website for parents, (click on the “Baby” tab).

Round-the-clock tending to a newborn who primarily eats, sleeps, poops and cries can be daunting. Elisa Brown, a Chico pediatrician on the medical staff at Enloe Medical Center, understands the stressors that new mothers face. For some, breastfeeding is among the many challenges.

“It’s hard those first few weeks—you feel like a human milk machine,” Brown said. “It does get better.”

It’s understandable to assume that breastfeeding will be a natural and easy connection, Brown continued, but that’s not always the case.

“Sometimes there’s a learning curve for baby and mom,” she said. “It’s a hard process. Feeding a baby is labor-intensive.”

Indeed, newborns typically need to be breastfed eight times in 24 hours, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Those first few weeks can be extra tough on mothers, but after about six to eight weeks, things usually go smoother. This even can be the case with mothers who have breastfed other children; Brown said every baby is different.

“My advice to new mothers is to be easy on yourself,” she said.

Although the process can be more challenging than new moms may think, Brown is an advocate for breastfeeding. And she’s not alone—Enloe, too, has made a commitment to encouraging the practice among mothers who give birth there. The skin-to-skin contact promotes bonding, Brown said. Its health benefits can favor both the mom and baby.

Women who choose to breastfeed typically return to their prepregnancy weight faster, according to AAP. This happens because the mother’s calories are being transferred to the baby during breastfeeding, Brown said. These mothers have a lower risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Nursing also lowers the risk for anemia.

A baby that is breastfed becomes less susceptible to ear and respiratory infections, diabetes, obesity, childhood cancers and asthma, according to AAP. Breastfeeding can reduce a baby’s risk of having a gluten allergy, known as Celiac disease, and the risk of other allergies as well. A mother’s milk has antibodies that, as nurse Heidi Cantrell explained, “ward off diseases and infection.”

Cantrell works as mother-baby outpatient manager at Enloe, a certified baby-friendly hospital. The certification means that Enloe’s maternity staff are trained specifically to help new mothers with nursing.

Of the more than 250 hospitals and birthing facilities in California, fewer than 100 have a baby-friendly designation, Cantrell said. (The Baby-Friendly USA website, updated July 7, listed 96.) As part of this commitment, Enloe will celebrate World Breastfeeding Week Aug. 1-7.

“Generally speaking, it’s about the love, making the connection with this beautiful baby that you’re given,” Cantrell said. “Breastfeeding is so close to the heart.”

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative began in 1991, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund. Hospitals implementing the initiative span 156 countries, according to the WHO. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action also raises awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding—the organization coordinates World Breastfeeding Week, and over 170 countries participate in the event.

A statewide breastfeeding coalition formed in 2003 after a meeting at the UC Davis Human Lactation Center. The California Breastfeeding Coalition holds summits, attended by hundreds of people, to foster breastfeeding initiatives at the community level, according to its website.

Feather River Hospital in Paradise—part of the Adventist Health organization—also is baby-friendly; it earned the accreditation three years ago. Enloe and Feather River are the only such facilities in Butte County.

Cantrell was on staff in 2004 when Enloe first decided to strive toward a baby-friendly designation. Brown, who has a private practice in town, also is a supporter of the baby-friendly hospital initiative. It took the team seven years to achieve the status, which it did in October 2011. The hospital must be re-evaluated every five years to keep the designation; its redesignation runs 2016-21.

Hospital staff at Enloe’s Nettleton Mother and Baby Care Center must undergo 20 hours of mandatory breastfeeding education. To stay certified, the hospital follows a 10-step guide to earning and keeping its designation. Cantrell said Enloe has ongoing education for its staff.

Along with training, the hospital follows other requirements to keep its designation. This includes not giving babies pacifiers at the hospital. Brown said that pacifiers have a different texture than skin and cause confusion for babies, making breastfeeding more difficult.

When new moms leave the hospital, Enloe doesn’t give out sample formula, either. Some hospitals do give formula, which leads some new parents to believe that formula-feeding is superior to breastfeeding, Cantrell said.

While nursing has many benefits, some women shouldn’t breastfeed for health reasons. For the infant, prematurity or low birth weight may require a supplement to breast milk, and digestive issues may call for a substitute. For the mother, she should not give breast milk when taking some types of medications, or has certain infections or other conditions, such as substance abuse.

If a mother cannot or chooses not to breastfeed, the hospital still supports her. Nourishing a baby is not one-size-fits-all, Brown said, and the hospital understands that every mother is different.

For those who cannot or do not breastfeed, Enloe will help guide them in ways to properly use formula. The hospital has lactation consultants, nurses with special certification who counsel mothers on feeding. And there’s a support group for those who choose to breastfeed.

Brown said it’s normal for bonding—including breastfeeding—to take some time to master. Overall, Chico is supportive of new moms, she said.

“Chico is definitely breastfeeding-friendly,” Brown said. “I’ve seen women walking around the farmers’ market nursing their babies.”