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Breastfeeding Changes Lives

By Gina Ciagne
Washington DC USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 6, November-December 2005, pp. 256-257

When I was preparing to be a mother, I did hours of research on parenting, breastfeeding, and related topics. After my daughter, Jalen, was born, I suddenly realized that I was responsible for a new life besides my own. The reality of creating a baby, nurturing the baby during pregnancy, and giving her life was overwhelming and exciting. The reading I had done during my pregnancy made me steadfast about deciding to breastfeed my daughter without supplementation from formula. It was this decision and commitment to breastfeed that would ultimately empower me beyond my wildest dreams.

I learned about the benefits of breastfeeding but was also educating myself on the risks to my child associated with not breastfeeding. I couldn't justify not breastfeeding; it's impossible to replicate the hundreds of immunologic agents found in human milk. Why not give her the best start I could?

I was committed wholeheartedly to breastfeeding. I sent back the case of unsolicited and unwanted formula that mysteriously appeared at my home just after I gave birth. I made the decision that, barring some unforeseen medical need for supplementation, my body would produce what it needed and enough of it to sustain my babies. When I went back to work or noticed a dip in my supply, I loaded up on granola bars, oatmeal, and fenugreek. I never considered supplementation because the research about the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for six months was too compelling to me to risk it.

I returned to work full-time at a large development institution four months after Jalen was born. I continued to nurse her at home and provide her with expressed milk at daycare. At work I pumped in a storage room. People occasionally walked in on me despite the "do not disturb" note on the door. I was glad to eventually stumble upon a room in which mothers could pump milk; however, I was dismayed that very few mothers knew about it and took advantage of the room because there was no formal lactation program or internal promotion of the room. This was an international institution that promoted breastfeeding through projects throughout the world, but they were not doing a good job of promoting breastfeeding to their staff and employees. I wondered how many women stopped breastfeeding after returning to their jobs because they did not know that there was a place to pump. Even if mothers know about the risks associated with not breastfeeding, such as more ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory infections, and higher likelihood of being overweight, they still deserve support from their employers as well as time and an appropriate space available to pump. Breastfeeding is just too important for children's health for employers to turn a blind eye to employed breastfeeding mothers.

It became my mission to propose a corporate lactation program to my organization so mothers could be supported in their decision to breastfeed and return to work. Though the lactation proposal that I presented to various managers in the organization was ultimately not funded, this exercise prompted my calling to become involved in the world of breastfeeding advocacy. Even though the program was not set up in my organization, it accelerated my research on corporate lactation programs and uncovering the pros and cons of breastfeeding for many segments of the population including mothers, children, and society at large.

My research became a quest to be part of the growing community who work on promoting and advocating breastfeeding in the US. I joined the US Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office on Women's Health to work specifically on the National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign that was launched in June 2004. I was amazed at how the stars aligned and how my dreams of promoting and educating others about breastfeeding were coming true.

While I was still working at HHS, my son, Luca, was born. He is now almost nine months old and we still enjoy our nursing relationship. Working in the arena of breastfeeding support while breastfeeding a baby of my own has strengthened my commitment. It is so rewarding to practice what I preach and to be able to identify with the women with whom I speak on a daily basis about the joys and challenges of breastfeeding.

But the promotion of breastfeeding by HHS only goes so far. I am sad to say that I have been fighting unsuccessfully to get a lactation room established -- a fight that is still unresolved. I am lucky enough to have an office with a locked door so I can pump in privacy, but what about the many mothers in my building who work in cubicles who do not enjoy the same privacy? There is still much work to be done to support working breastfeeding mothers.

Pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding bolstered my empowerment. It is unlike anything I have ever experienced before and it's truly amazing. My outlook didn't change overnight -- it was a series of events that helped transform me into a woman who finally knew exactly what she wanted. I truly believe that I can do anything because I found my purpose in life.

It is my goal to educate women about breastfeeding. It is important for me to give women and their support systems all the information they need about the benefits of breastfeeding and risks of not breastfeeding so they can make a truly educated decision. Breastfeeding has been one of the best things I have ever done for myself and for my children. Knowing the benefits will last a lifetime gives me a reassurance that I have given them the best start in life.

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