LONGMONT — When it comes to nurturing and raising a newborn child, there’s no substitute for a mother’s milk.
That’s the philosophy held by Amy Miller, Margaret Bickmore and the other members of Longmont’s La Leche League, a nonprofit information and support group for mothers interested in breast-feeding.
Bickmore, one of the group’s leaders, became involved with the league when she moved to Longmont seven years ago with a 3-month-old baby.
“I was looking to connect with other mothers,” she said from the shore of Union Reservoir, her three children splashing and playing in the sand.
“I went to a La Leche League meeting to meet some other mothers who were also breast-feeding, and I really enjoyed the comradery, support and friendships I found there,” she added.
La Leche League is more than just a place for breast-feeding mothers to share their experiences and build friendships. The League works to educate the public about the benefits of breast-feeding while promoting the practice as an integral part of motherhood. A celebration Saturday morning at Rogers Grove will mark the end of World Breast-feeding Week.
“I think there are still some people out there who feel that formula is an equivalent to breast-feeding and it doesn’t matter which one you choose, and that’s just really wrong,” Miller said.
In addition to missing out on the vitamins and antibodies available only in breast milk, Miller said, children who are fed formula also miss out on the close physical connection associated with breast-feeding.
“All babies have an intense need to be close to mom, and that’s true whether or not they’re breast-fed,” she said.
According to Erika Townsend, the lactation consultant at Longmont United Hospital, formulas lack ingredients such as antimicrobial agents that make the milk easier to digest, and they don’t have the same nutrition and health benefits.
Babies who receive breast milk have a lower rate of infantile ear infections, but some of the most important advantages of breast-feeding don’t show up until the child is older.
Townsend said studies have shown that babies who are breast-fed grow up to have lower blood pressure, less of a chance of obesity and less of a chance of developing diabetes.
“Nothing in man-made formulas is comparable to that,” she said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breast-feed exclusively for the first six months and gradually introduce other foods into the baby’s diet after that. Breast-feeding should continue for at least a year but can go on as long as is mutually accepted by mother and child.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2003, 45.6 percent of Colorado mothers were breast-feeding six months after birth. That number dropped to 21.3 percent at 12 months.
One of the CDC’s goals for 2010 is to have 75 percent of mothers breast-feeding right after birth, 50 percent at six months and 25 percent after one year.
Only six states — Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington — have met those goals.
Though the positive aspects of breast-feeding are widely known, many mothers may be reluctant to start because of the relative ease of shaking up a bottle of formula. They may also feel pressure from friends and relatives who are unaccustomed to seeing a mother breast-feed, Miller said.
“It’s not as much of a cultural norm as it should be,” she said.
To avoid problems during breast-feeding, Miller recommended that mothers get educated and start feeding as soon after birth and as often as possible. LUH offers classes for new mothers, and links to other resources are available online at www.longmontlll.org.
La Leche League supports and promotes breast-feeding, but they’re not out to chastise bottle-using mothers.
“We don’t tell women how to breast-feed or in what manner,” Bickmore said. “We’re just here to provide the information and support they need to reach their own breast-feeding goals, whether that’s three weeks, three months or three years.”
John Houder can be reached at 303-684-5336 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.