Belkis Tores of Hanover Township tenderly cuddled her newborn as little Kenneth, 1 day old and hungry, drank from her breast.
This is the natural way to feed a baby, the way she fed her three older children, and she is happy to be able to do it.
“It is best for the health of the baby,” her husband, Frankel Castillo said, translating for her last week at Hazleton General Hospital.
“It helps them grow and keeps them from getting sick,” he said with a glance that encompassed 3-year-old Amaia, who was smiling at her baby brother as if he was her new, 7-pound doll, as well as 11-year-old Emil and 9-year-old Joseph, who grinned and said they couldn’t remember ever being that small.
Breast-feeding offers health benefits not only for babies but for mothers, as it reduces their risk of certain cancers and fosters the mother-child bond, said registered nurse Courtney Muendlein, one of two certified lactation counselors at Hazleton General who help and advise new parents.
“You’ll produce colostrum for the first three days, and then the milk will come in. It’s definitely enough for the baby,” Muendlein told Tores last week, reassuring her the baby is getting enough nourishment. “That’s why we keep track of the diapers. We can see he’s getting enough by checking the pooping and peeing.”
Breastfeeding is on the rise in the United States., with 77 percent of new mothers nursing their newborns and nearly half continuing to do so for at least six months, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC’s 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card finds the proportion of mothers who nurse their babies at all increased significantly between 2000 and 2010 — and that the duration of nursing increased steadily as well.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies consume nothing but breast milk for six months and that after they start eating solid foods they continue to nurse until their first birthday. Mothers seem to be following this advice: In 2010, 49 percent of mothers were breastfeeding at the six-month mark, and 27 percent were still doing so after one year. In 2000, only 35 percent of moms nursed for six months and 16 percent nursed for a year.
Muendlein recommends that nursing continue as long as both parties — mother and child — want to continue and said 99 percent of new mothers should be able to breastfeed. In the cases of the 1 percent who can’t, she said, it’s usually because the baby is allergic to milk.
But babies who can and do breastfeed are rewarded with a boost in immunity and a decrease in the risk of ear infections, diarrhea, eczema, asthma, obesity and diabetes later in life. Findings recently published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association also indicate they tend to have higher IQs.
While some manufacturers of infant formula try to make their product resemble mothers’ milk as much as possible, Muendlein said, “breast milk is the gold standard.”
For women who breastfeed, there is a reduction in the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, said Muendlein, who would like to see more workplaces provide a space where women could breastfeed their children or express their milk for later use.
Hazleton General does provide such a place for its employees, Leigh Ann Weidlich of the public relations staff said.
Muendlein and her counterpart, registered nurse Sadie DelPais, encourage women who want to breastfeed to attend a prenatal breastfeed class or join the postpartum breastfeeding support group they are starting.
“Our discussions will range from going back to work or school, to breastfeeding one baby with a second on the way,” Muendlein said.
The Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center and Wyoming Valley Medical System also offer breastfeeding classes, and members of the Greater Pittston La Leche League, which meets at 10 a.m. today at the Laflin Municipal Building, also are available to offer support and advice.
At Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital in Danville, there’s even a Donor Milk Program to provide human breast milk to babies in need. Funded by the Children’s Miracle Network, it is designed to help babies in the Neonatal Intensive Car Unit whose mothers’ milk might be unavailable or insufficient.
“Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for newborns, especially for premature and seriously ill infants,” neonatologist Dr. Constance Andrejko said in a press release. “(This program) will improve the lives of our most fragile patients.”