'Babies are Born to Breastfeed:' UMC Celebrates World Breastfeeding Week, Aug. 1
Cheryl Caswell delivered premature triplets at University Medical Center on July 3 and successfully breastfed all three infants for nearly three weeks in the Nursery ICU. Now at home in Vail with her babies, she hopes to nourish little Connor, Trevor and Lainey exclusively on her breastmilk for the next six months.
That sort of commitment to breastfeeding makes Cheryl and her husband Kevin heroes to UMC lactation consultants Renee Palting and Gloria Paranos Fernandez, whose full-time job is to encourage breastfeeding among new parents at UMC.
Although their top priority is supporting breastfeeding mothers whose babies are in the Nursery ICU, the lactation consultants try to meet with every new mom at UMC who wishes to breastfeed. "The majority of our patients want to breastfeed and just need some one-on-one training and encouragement. We teach that breastfeeding is a wonderful way to start affordable, preventive healthcare for babies," Palting said.
A registered nurse, Palting is president of the Arizona Breastfeeding Coalition and co-chair of Pima County Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies. Fernandez has been a La Leche League leader for the past 15 years. Both are bilingual and board-certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. Their support and expertise are available to new moms at UMC seven days a week.
They have lofty goals. In keeping with the federal Healthy People 2010 initiative, they hope to see 50 percent of mothers breastfeeding their babies at 6 months by the year 2010.
Nationally, only about 68 percent of women breastfeed either exclusively or in combination with formula at the time of hospital discharge, and only 31 percent still nurse their babies at six months, according to Palting.
Slightly more than 78 percent of Arizona women breastfed their babies at birth. About 36 percent of Arizona mothers are still breastfeeding at 6 months. The figures come from the Mothers Survey by Ross Products Division of Abbott Laboratories for 2000, the latest data available.
"The Arizona numbers are going up, but we'd like to do better. We're not here to force anyone to breastfeed, but we do want all our new moms to know about the benefits of breastmilk, and that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed until they are 6 months old," Palting said.
The UMC lactation consultants often work with patients' insurance companies to obtain a breast pump for moms who have a baby in the Nursery ICU. If a mother's insurance company won't pay for a breast pump, they'll try to get one donated from local charitable organizations.
Support for new moms is crucial to breastfeeding success, they said. "We're a society that discourages breastfeeding. It's becoming a lost art. Sometimes knowing that you're not alone, that there are people out there who want to help you succeed, makes all the difference," Palting said.
Twice a month, UMC facilitates a free community "Mommy to Mommy" support group as well as community classes for expectant mothers who would like to learn more about breastfeeding. These breastfeeding classes, which cost $15, are usually held in the evening or on a Saturday morning and are offered in English and Spanish. Many patients are surprised to learn that most insurance companies will pay for the class, Palting said.
A key concern for many new moms is how they can combine breastfeeding with a work schedule. Fortunately, most employers are becoming more accommodating about finding time and space for mothers to pump their breast milk during their work shift. The breast milk then can be refrigerated for later use in a bottle.
UMC has an established "pump room" for breastfeeding hospital employees. The fourth floor retreat had 700 employee visits last year, Palting said. UMC recently opened a second pump room on the eighth floor for medical residents who breastfeed their babies. Medical residents may spend up to 80 hours a week working at the hospital.
Editors please note: Mrs. Caswell is happy to discuss her choice to exclusively breastfeed her triplets. Contact AHSC Office of Public Affairs at 626-4828 to arrange an interview. World Breastfeeding Week is being observed in more than 120 countries worldwide the first week of August. UMC will celebrate from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Aug. 4 in Cafeteria Dining Rooms C and D with displays and information. The public is invited.