Nikki Cobb Daily Bulletin Staff writer.
Aug. 13, 2006.
It seems like the most natural thing in the world, and it carries tremendous benefits for mother and baby.
Yet just 30.8 percent of San Bernardino County's mothers breast feed their infants.
The county ranked 40th of 50 California counties studied in rates of mothers solely breast feeding, without supplementing with formula. Experts say if the mother doesn't learn to breast feed in the hospital, she's unlikely to start at home.
The study, by California's Women Infants and Children's program and UC Davis, found that though more than 83 percent of women plan to breast feed their infants, only 40.5 percent do so statewide. And a lot of that discrepancy can be accounted for by hospital practices, state the study, which was released earlier this week.
"Hospitals separate mother and baby, (and) they don't bring the baby to the mother when it shows signs of hunger, but rather feed it a supplement to let the mother rest," said Jane Heinig, executive director of the UC Davis lactation center. "Policies like these can result in a high supplementation rate."
Breast-feeding releases the hormone oxytocin in the mother, which causes her to bond with her baby. She also gets her health back more quickly, because oxytocin contracts the uterus.
The nursing mother also has less risk of developing osteoporosis or breast cancer and less likelihood of postpartum depression, said Dr. Ruth Stanhiser, director of post-medical education in the department of family medicine at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton.
"There's a long list of benefits," Stanhiser said. "Many for reasons we're not totally clear on."
But the benefits to the baby are even more dramatic. Babies who have been exclusively breast-fed for at least the first six months have higher IQ's, less risk of becoming overweight or obese later in life, fewer ear and upper respiratory infections, decreased susceptibility to childhood diabetes and stronger immune systems.
"We know that it ends up with better results," said Karen Farley, lactation consultant with California WIC Association. "Kids stay healthier."
No local hospitals ranked in the top 15 of California's highest-scoring hospitals in encouraging breast feeding, but one -- Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center in Pomona -- scored in the bottom 15. Pomona was eighth from last in its effectiveness in promoting breast-feeding, with just 14.5 percent of mothers choosing to do so exclusively.
Erin Williams, spokeswoman for Pomona Valley Hospital, said the facility has recently hired several lactation consultants to help new mothers who decide to breast-feed.
Also, Williams said, hospital staff are working with obstetricians and other physicians in the community to try to educate women as to the benefits of breast-feeding in making their decision before giving birth.
"We've been giving it the full-court press," Williams said. "We do know that breast-feeding is beneficial for everyone."
Community Hospital of San Bernardino also scored in the lowest 15, coming in 10th from the bottom with 19.5 percent of new mothers exclusively breast-feeding.
Tobey Robertson, Community spokeswoman, said since the data was initially gathered for the study, the hospital has vastly improved its education program. A lactation consultant visits every new mother, she said, and the hospital holds community programs to teach breast-feeding -- in Spanish and in English.
Heinig said ethnicity can play a factor in a mother's decision to breast-feed -- and in the hospital's treatment of the issue.
African Americans are much less likely to breast-feed at all, Heinig said. And Latina women start using formula to supplement nursing early on, she said.
"It may be in some hospitals there's an assumption made, that they're going to mix feed so (hospitals) don't promote it," Heinig said.
Carol Melcher, clinical director of the perinatal services network at Loma Linda University Medical Center, said the network and First 5 of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties are working with 20 hospitals to help them become more supportive of mothers who want to breast-feed. The program has trained 3,000 nurses in the past five years, she said.
"We have to reeducate the moms and the nurses," Melcher said. "They need to realize that it's really negative to even give the baby a pacifier."