Dec 16, 2009

"Dream Potion" for babies

Did you know that Memphis, TN has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the country?

Shelby County hopes to improve this and as part of their initiative they are putting together a monthly series of guest columns that focus on issues involving children. The most recent guest column is from Ginger Carney, a registered dietitian and lactation consultant for the Shelby County Breastfeeding Coalition. She writes about breastmilk, calling it a "dream" potion to start life.

We are strong supporters of breastfeeding and we thank Ginger for writing this compelling article:

Mother's milk is 'dream' potion to start life - Human milk is considered not only nutrition but a medicine, especially for premature babies. It is a baby's first vaccine against disease.

By Ginger Carney, Special to Viewpoint

"Babies were born to be breastfed." Sound familiar? This message has been sprinkled around the city in various locations, including on bus stop shelters and a large billboard at the corner of Madison and Manassas. The signs are part of an effort of the Shelby County Breastfeeding Coalition, a group of professionals concerned with the health of mothers and babies in the community.

Because the rate of breastfeeding in Shelby County is way below the "Healthy People 2010" goals set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a decade ago, the group hopes to promote the benefits that breastfeeding provides not only to babies and mothers, but to families and the entire community.

Some of the widely know benefits that breastfeeding provides to babies are:
  • Fewer allergies and illnesses, including respiratory infections and diarrhea.
  • Protection from ear infections.
  • Improvement in vision, brain, teeth and jaw development.
  • Lower rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer and necrotizing enterocolitis (a serious intestinal infection common in premature infants).
  • Lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
In addition, for mothers who breastfeed, the benefits include:
  • Decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Speedy return of uterine tone and decreased bleeding after birth.
  • Ovulation suppression, which aids the spacing of children.
Another benefit now becoming more evident is the relationship between breastfeeding and reduction of overweight. Mothers lose their baby weight faster with the expenditure of calories required to breastfeed; the longer the mother provides breastmilk to her baby, the more weight she can lose. Breastfeeding also decreases the incidence of pediatric overweight, particularly if breastfeeding provides a baby's exclusive source of food and liquids during the first six months of life. Considering today's obesity epidemic, breastfeeding's protection against overweight seems to be one of the best resources we have to address concerns about the health status of our community.

Because of their underdeveloped immune systems, the large number of babies born prematurely in the Memphis area are at increased risk for infections. Although these babies may be too small to actually breastfeed, they can benefit greatly from their mothers' expressed milk. Human milk contains immune factors that can protect and sustain premature infants in a compromised environment. This unique, dynamic fluid provides substances that coat the intestines and help prevent infections. Human milk, in this situation, is considered not only nutrition but a medicine -- a baby's first vaccine against disease.
When a baby's mother is not able to provide her own milk, human milk from regulated milk banks can be substituted. Banked human milk is now being used on a limited basis in the Memphis area.

A breastfeeding mother has a very special bond with her baby. Breastfeeding increases feelings of trust, relaxation and love. Mothers and babies gaze into each other's eyes during breastfeeding while feeling the warmth and closeness it affords. This causes the maternal release of oxytocin, which has been called the "love hormone." This hormone allows the mother to interact easily with her baby and respond appropriately to his or her needs. Scientists have discovered that the release of oxytocin helps to elevate maternal mood and reduce anxiety and stress.
Studies indicate a decrease in child abuse and neglect among mothers who breastfeed their infants. With an alarming rate of child abuse in our community, support for breastfeeding may be another way the practice could benefit us.

Memphis has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the country. Could this possibly explain some of the social problems we face?
I am reminded of a quote from UNICEF in 1991:
"Imagine that the world had invented a new 'dream product' to feed and immunize everyone born on Earth. Imagine also that it was available everywhere and required no storage or delivery -- and helped mothers to plan their families and reduce the risk of cancer. Then imagine that the world refused to use it ... (T)his scenario is not alas a fiction. The 'dream product' is human breastmilk, available to us all at birth, and yet we are not using it."
Memphis is underusing this "dream product." For the sake of our community's health, this needs to change.

This is one in a series of monthly guest columns designed to focus public attention on issues that affect children. It is part of a Shelby County initiative to remind everyone, in every aspect of daily life, to "Ask First: Is It Good for the Children?" For more information, call the Shelby County Office of Early Childhood and Youth at 526-1822, ext. 249, or visit


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