Editor's note: This is part of a special section on Columbia's kids. Read more here.
COLUMBIA — After working as a nurse at a obstetrical clinic for 14 years, Beth Johnson felt she was ready to leave and focus more on helping mothers feed their babies.
"I wanted to have more one-on-one time with moms," Johnson said.
Johnson started her new career as an onsite lactation nurse at Kilgore's Pharmacy one and a half years ago, which provides free services for patients who come to the store.
"Breastfeeding support is crucial," Johnson said. "If there is no one supporting you, I will be the one.”
Breastfeeding has health benefits for both babies and moms, according to a project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. Breast milk is more nutritional and digestible than formula, and it contains unique antibodies, which protect babies from illness. Breastfeeding moms have a lower risk for diseases such as Type 2diabetes and breast cancer, according to the project.
Johnson said she felt passionate about providing lactation advice because she heard that a lot of mothers, upon leaving the hospital, gave up in the face of social and physical challenges.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for about six months and continuing it until the child is about 12 months. Only 12 percent of women in Missouri exclusively breastfeed for six months, and 15.6 percent keep breastfeeding for 12 months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Breastfeeding Report Card for 2011.
Johnson said breastfeeding is time-consuming and energy-consuming.
“A lot of moms are told breastfeeding is all natural and you should know how to do it," Johnson said. "It’s not easy in any way.”
Johnson is certified by Lactation Education Resources, which is approved by the Lactation Education Accreditation and Approval Review Committee.
She said every moment of being a lactation nurse is memorable.
“It makes my day when I see a mother’s face light up because their babies latch on and start sucking milk, and I have those bigger moments when I received 'fan mails' — baby photos and their birthday party invitations,” Johnson said.
Melissa Creek, one of Beth Johnson’s patients who is breastfeeding her baby Kara, said she could never make it without Johnson's help.
“I went through extremely bad postpartum depression after my first birth because I couldn't breastfeed,” Creek said. “Not a day I have had this with Kara. I feel successful as a mother because I can give her the best thing of all. ”
“I totally don’t want to be a hero,” Johnson said. “I can’t tell you how rewarding this job is.”
She also said the promotion by the formula industry makes breastfeeding even more difficult for some moms and she needs to provide the correct information.
“So many moms are sent home with 'emergency' formula, but you have breasts,” Johnson said. “Breastfeeding make babies healthier, smarter, and it’s better in the long run.”
Patt Stewart, another lactation consultant at Kilgore's, feels strongly about formula given to moms as free samples at the hospital. "I'd like to call it artificial feeding," she said. "Formula should be a prescription."
Stewart said breast milk is irreplaceable because what a mother produces is specifically for her baby. A mother’s immune system can sense the germs the baby is exposed to and produce a particular antibody for her baby.
Stewart is an international board-certified lactation consultant, recognized by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, an independent global authority in the lactation and breastfeeding area.
Lori Lampe, a board-certified lactation consultant at MU Children’s Hospital, said breastfeeding means more than health benefits for both moms and babies.
"It's a very important time for women who give birth to their own children. It's such a special connection,” she said.
Lampe said she always shares the excitement of the bonding between mothers and babies. "Being a part of this important time of their lives is the best for me," she said. "I see them in the community maybe a month later. There are smiles, there are confidences, and they are having a health baby. That warms my heart."
Lampe said, there are about 11 board-certified lactation consultants working at the Boone Hospital, MU Women’s and Children’s Hospitals or for the city’s Women, Infant, Children Supplemental Program.
Stewart said some breastfeeding mothers not only need technical support in how to correctly nurse their babies but also need someone who can give them confidence and encouragement.
"When moms watch baby grow on a daily basis and recognize that it's my milk that does it, it's a very empowering thing." Stewart said.