COLUMBIA — The words “I make milk. What’s your superpower?" wrinkled on Sarah Davis' shirt as she lifted it to breastfeed her 9-month-old son, Micah.
Davis is a member of La Leche League in Columbia, a local chapter of the international group where women meet, talk and share tips about breast-feeding. For Davis, breast-feeding is an important part of her relationship with her son.
Five steps from Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services:
- Breastfeed within the first hour after birth.
- Room in with your baby to know his/her early signs of hunger
- Breastfeed on demand when baby makes sucking noises or puts fist to mouth.
- Do not give pacifiers or bottles to breastfeeding infants.
- Exclusively breastfeed unless medically indicated
See Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative USA for more information.
La Leche League offers discussion and support groups at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 2615 Shepard Blvd.
- Second Thursday of each month at 10 a.m.
- Third Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m.
Call Kim Leon, 573-449-6516 for more information.
The Missouri Breastfeeding Coalition meets six times a year throughout the state for any community member interested in improving breastfeeding for mothers in Missouri. Membership is $10. Email Debbi Heffern at email@example.com for more information.
Kilgore’s Medical Pharmacy offers free lactation consulting and private appointments at its Chapel Hill Road location. Call Patt Stewart RN, IBCLC at 573-447-4444 for more information.
Lori Lampe of the Green Meadows Pediatrics Clinic offers breastfeeding support 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays. Call the clinic at 573-882-4730 to make an appointment.
The University of Missouri Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative has opened private lactation rooms around campus for nursing mothers. Some rooms require reservations; others are first come, first served. See MU Equity’s website for more information.
My Life Clinic, 802 N. Providence Road Suite 2, offers private first-time parents weekly classes during the mother’s pregnancy. Some sessions are dedicated to breast-feeding. The clinic also has an annual group class with a lactation specialist. All services are free. To set up an appointment, call 573-874-3561.
“I feel very strongly that (baby) formula won’t be the same,” she said.
Davis is part of 38 percent of women in Missouri who breast-feed their children after six months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Breastfeeding Report Card for 2010.
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative from UNICEF and the World Health Organization said breast-feeding decreases risks for diarrhea and respiratory and ear infections. It also decreases hospital and pediatric visits, saving the health care system millions of dollars.
The World Health Organization recommends mothers breast-feed exclusively for six months and continue until their children are two years old.
Because of the health benefits, the CDC's Healthy People 2010 set a goal of 50 percent of women breast-feeding their children at six months old. The national average is 43 percent.
Missouri is one of 36 states that did not meet the 50-percent standard.
Why do mothers stop breast-feeding?
Social pressures related to breast-feeding children at 12 months and older can prevent mothers from continuing, Kim Leon, leader of La Leche League in Columbia, said.
When Micah was 6 months old, an organizer at a children's event asked Davis to put a blanket over him because the organizer was concerned that other children could see Davis breast-feeding.
The occasional strange look has not stopped Davis, though, who breast-fed her oldest son, Isaiah, until he was 4 years old. Davis said women think they will run into more opposition than they actually will.
“I’ve only gotten two complaints in eight years of breast-feeding (among three children) in places like church, the library, the store, riding on the train, weddings, funerals,” Davis said. “The more you see (women breast-feeding), the less surprised you are. If you notice that it’s normal, you’ll be more likely to breast-feed."
Missouri law protects mothers breast-feeding in “any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be.” Only six states do not have protection laws for mothers breast-feeding in public, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Women are not aware of resources available to them after leaving the hospital, which could be part of the problem, Debbi Heffern, a registered dietitian, lactation specialist and spokeswoman of the Missouri Breastfeeding Coalition, said.
“They go home so fast, they can’t use the resources available at the hospital,” Heffern said. “The goal of the breast-feeding supporters in the hospitals and the community is to help the mothers get the mechanics working so the magic can begin.”
Support while going back to work
Another obstacle for breast-feeding mothers is when they go back to work after maternity leaves, Heffern said. The Family and Medical Act allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
When Davis returned to work as a midwife after her second son was born, she decided to bring him along and breast-feed when needed. She said her schedule was more flexible because she ran her own business, and it was worth the effort.
Support groups for expecting and breast-feeding mothers, such as La Leche League of Columbia, say they can make the transition from home to work easier.
“We’ve found that many employers are receptive when approached, but many mothers don’t feel comfortable doing that,” Leon said.
That’s why support from other mothers in the same situation is essential, she said.
“Sometimes they feel like they’re the only ones they know that breast-feed,” Leon said.
Sharon Cornelison, a certified lactation educator at Kilgore’s Medical Pharmacy, said the store has women coming in from Moberly and Marshall in addition to Columbia.
“Our community is very fortunate to have these free services,” Cornelison said. “They can never have too much support.”
The only hospital accredited through the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative in Missouri is Hannibal Regional Hospital, according to the initiative's website. Hospitals in Columbia, though, do offer free breast-feeding classes, consultants and information.
Davis said she hopes breast-feeding will become a normal part of public life and believes that leading by example is the most effective tool.
“What’s more normal than people eating?”