BRADENTON — When 26-year-old Brandi Fernandez was pregnant with her first child, her thoughts didn’t center around how she would feed her newborn.
“I was so wrapped up in the ins and outs of the baby’s room and clothes, I didn’t focus on nursing,” said the Sarasota mother of two.
But after she gave birth at home, her midwife suggested she attend a local breast-feeding support group.
“I didn’t learn about the benefits until after I started nursing and then started attending meetings,” said Fernandez, who has two girls, 5 months and 25 months. “There’s just so many protective health benefits for myself and my girls.”
In an effort to encourage breast-feeding and improve the health of babies around the globe, The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and nursing advocates in more than 170 countries are celebrating World Breastfeeding Week.
In its 19th year, this year’s theme is “Breastfeeding: Just 10 Steps. The Baby-Friendly Way,” created to draw attention to steps hospitals can take to encourage mothers to nurse.
The steps include helping moms hold their babies skin-to-skin immediately after birth, providing breast-feeding training for staff and connecting mothers to support in the community upon discharge from the hospital, said Mary O’Connor, lactation services leader at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
By the end of 2010, nearly 60 percent of the Mother-Baby Unit nursing staff at the hospital will have advanced certification training in breastfeeding, she said.
Statistics from The United Nations Children’s Fund show that the reduction of child deaths from 13 million globally in 1990 to 8.8 million in 2008 is partly because of the adoption of basic health interventions such as early and exclusive breast-feeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants consume only breast milk in the first six months of life. That milk provides babies with needed antibodies to help them develop strong immune systems that help reduce the risk of ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory tract infections, obesity, diabetes and sudden infant death syndrome. It has also been shown to be vital for women’s health by lowering the mother’s risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and diabetes.
Breast-feeding is better for the environment because there is less trash and plastic waste, as compared to that produced by formula cans and bottle supplies, notes the Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee County. It also contributes to a more productive workforce as breast-feeding mothers miss less work, because statistics show their babies are sick less often.
Manatee Memorial Hospital is celebrating the practice by providing breast-feeding mothers with a special care package.
This week, every new mother who chooses to breast-feed will receive free gifts, including coupons to create awareness and support the health benefits of breast-feeding, said Becky Bouchard, a nurse manager over pediatrics at Manatee.
“These new mothers will also receive an in-hospital consultation with our trained lactation consultant, as well as a follow-up support session at our MOMM’S (Mothers of Manatee Memorial) Place facility,” said Bouchard, who also oversees MOMM’s Place.
Also to mark this week, the local Healthy Start Coalition is hosting an event at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Manatee area moms, children and others interested in learning more are invited to the free event at 1505 12th Ave. W.
For some people, breast-feeding can be scary, said Denise Drizos, a nurse and mother of two.
“Sometimes it’s a learning process for both mother and child, and it could be a struggle,” said Drizos, who runs a Lakewood Ranch-based business called The Mommy Consultant. Her services include breast-feeding support. “My daughter got it right away, but with my son, it took some work.”
Raised on formula, Fernandez always wanted to nurse, but just didn’t think about it during her pregnancy.
“I knew I wanted to have a bond with them that wasn’t through objects like a bottle,” said Fernandez, who learned about the benefits of nursing after attending weekly meetings at Suncoast La Leche League, the local branch of the international breast-feeding support group that meets monthly at Sarasota Christian Church.
The support, she said, was amazing.
“Not knowing what to expect, having someone behind you to let you know this can happen, that can happen, that helps a lot,” Fernandez said.