While the recent cover photo on Time magazine that showed a woman breast-feeding her 3-year-old generated plenty of debate, there is no question for some local medical professionals about the benefits of breastfeeding.
Dr. Maruthi Madhov Sunkara, a pediatrician at Nathan Littauer?Hospital in Gloversville, noted breast-feeding an infant for several months and up to a year has been linked to benefit including a lower risk of developing certain illnesses, developing asthma, or even becoming obese later in childhood.
"It's like a public health issue, not just a lifestyle choice," he said.
Nancy Quinlan, right, a registered nurse and lactation consultant with?Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville, helps Mary?Constantino breast-feed her 8-week-old son, Giovanni, at the hospital Thursday.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor
With those benefits in mind, officials are looking to help raise the rates of breast-feeding in the local area.
However, across the nation many mothers are not following the recommended advice.
About 44 percent of U.S. moms do at least some breast-feeding for six months. But only 15 percent follow advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics that babies receive breast milk alone for that time span. And fewer still stick with breast-feeding for a year, also recommended by the academy.
About three-quarters of mothers say they breast-feed during their baby's first days and weeks of life. Then it drops off fast.
By their first birthday, fewer than a quarter of children are getting breast milk, according to the government's latest national report card on breast-feeding.
According to the academy, the benefits of breast-feeding for at least several months and up to a year include: Breast-fed infants have a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome. They suffer fewer illnesses such as diarrhea, earaches and pneumonia, because breast milk contains antibodies that help fend off infections until their own immune systems become robust. They're also less likely to develop asthma, or even to become fat later in childhood.
Moms can benefit, too, decreasing their risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
Sunkara said mothers who breast-feed their babies also show lower rates of post-partum depression and rheumatoid arthritis.
"It benefits both mother and child," he said.
Sunkara also noted that if 90 percent of mothers breast-fed their infants for six months, the nation would save $13 billion in formula and health-care costs. Not to mention 11,000 infant lives.
Local hospitals have been taking steps to make sure women have the information they need to feel comfortable breast-feeding.
Nancy Quinlan, a registered nurse and internationally board certified lactation consultant who works at Littauer, said the hospital has a support group for women who are breast-feeding that meets twice a month.
Not only do the women get more information about breast-feeding, she said, they also get to talk about what they are going through with women in the same situation.
Kelly?Hartz, a registered nurse and manager of The Birthing?Center and Pediatrics at Littauer, said mothers also are given information about breastfeeding before they give birth, and even more information is provided when they take the baby home.
Mary Constantino of Gloversville, a nurse practitioner who works at Lexington and in the emergency room at Littauer, noted when she gave birth to her now eight-week-old son, Giovanni, she had an appointment for a followup with a lactation consultant right away.
"I felt that was great," she said, noting many women may not have considered it, having focused so much on giving birth.
Quinlan said the hospital also offers weigh-ins for babies, information about breast-pump use, and also helps dads learn how they can support mom while she is trying to breastfeed.
Quinlan noted however a mother chooses to feed her newborn, the staff at the hospital are there to provide help either way.
"We respect their decision" she said.
Cynthia Pikcilingis, a registered nurse and internationally board-certified lactation consultant with?St.?Mary's Healthcare in?Amsterdam, said many expecting mothers come to classes about breast-feeding unsure of what they want to do.
However, many decide to breast-feed after seeing the positive results it can have for mother and baby, she said.
Sunkara said breast-feeding may not be possible for some mothers. For example, he said, some medications the mother is taking may make it impossible for her to breast-feed.
However, he said, when mothers choose not to breastfeed, he likes to talk with them. By addressing their concerns, he said, the hope is that even if they do not feel comfortable breast-feeding their child now, they may be willing to do so in the future.
Sunkara said the message breast-feeding has many benefits seems to be getting to people.
He noted in the hospital's nursery last week, all four mothers were breastfeeding their newborns.
"That was the first time I have seen that," he said with a smile.
Quinlan said from a year ago, Littauer?Hospital has seen a 7 percent increase in the number of mothers breastfeeding their babies - from 46 to 53 percent.
Julia Shafer, the director of women's services at St. Mary's Healthcare, said 75 percent of mothers are breast-feeding their infants when they are discharged. That is up from 56 percent in 2008, she said.
For more information, call Nathan Littauer?Hospital at 725-8621 or St.?Mary's Healthcare at 841-7314.