Do what's natural ... and best

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By Becky Cassell, Editor

Have you ever wished you could turn back time and do something over again? And do it differently?

When we received a press release recently about World Breastfeeding Month in August, I immediately thought about my children. I breastfed all three of my children, though I stopped nursing my eldest son after about three months, about the time I went back to work. I didn't know how to work and breastfeed at the same time.

Within two weeks, he had his very first ear infection and proceeded to have them at regular intervals for the next several years. After three sets of ear tubes - and a tonsillectomy at age 7 - he finally outgrew the worst of the problems.

Yet I can't help but notice the difference in the health of my other two children, each of whom I breastfed for a little more than a year. Perhaps one or two ear infections in their entire lives.

I wish I could have a "do-over" with my eldest son.

There are so many comments and stories I've heard over the years about problems that women have had when they've tried to breastfeed. The best advice I ever received was when the doctor told me my second child wasn't gaining the weight he needed to and encouraged me to contact La Leche League, a group that provides mother-to-mother support and information for breastfeeding mothers. That's where I learned that there is seldom ever a reason a woman can't breastfeed. I went to meetings and they answered all my questions and provided untold advice and support.

I won't lie. It's not something one can just decide to do ... and do it. It takes practice and dedication. But once you've got it right, there's nothing quite like breastfeeding. Beyond its health benefits for both mother and baby, it helps form a special bond.

Still, most Kentucky mothers don't do it.

According to new figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 48 percent of Kentucky babies born in 2005 were ever breastfed. That's the second-lowest rate in the nation. The national average is 74 percent.

That's why educational months such as World Breastfeeding Month are good. It's a month set aside to educate and inform the public, and hopefully some will take notice.

The theme for this year's World Breastfeeding Month, "Mother Support: Going for the Gold - Everyone Wins When Babies Breastfeed," calls on health professionals, employers, families and communities to provide a breastfeeding-friendly environment that helps new mothers reach their breastfeeding goals.

According to the press release, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently published an analysis of studies on the impact of breastfeeding in developed countries. The report found that one conclusion was that breastfeeding has a profound impact on both infant and maternal health, including reducing the risk of ear infections, gastroenteritis, respiratory tract infections, dermatitis, asthma, obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia and sudden infant death syndrome in the child, as well as breast cancer, ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes in the mother.

"Many mothers are aware of the importance of breastfeeding," said Becky Derifield, Kentucky's breastfeeding promotion coordinator. "However, when some women are faced with challenges they stop or supplement with artificial baby milk before the recommended time. One of the biggest factors in discontinuing breastfeeding is the lack of support from families, health care providers, employers and communities."

For more information about breastfeeding, contact Derifield, Kentucky breastfeeding promotion coordinator, at (502) 564-3827 Ext. 3815 or by e-mail at becky.derifield@ky.gov. Information on breastfeeding can be found at www.chfs.ky.gov/dph/ach/ns/breastfeeding.htm.

You can learn more about the La Leche League by visiting the group's Web site at www.llleus.org/state/Kentucky.html. The good thing about La Leche League is that the leaders are all experienced mothers who have breastfed their own babies and who have been trained and accredited by La Leche League International to help mothers and mothers-to-be with all aspects of breastfeeding.

Give it a try. You'll be glad you did.