Panel explains breast-feeding is a lot more than mere food

Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Sweden, Norway and Denmark have some of the highest breast-feeding rates in the world, according to the Population Reference Bureau. The independent international research group reports 95 percent of women in 63 developing nations breast-feed. But American women lag behind when it comes to willingness to begin and to sustain the practice.

To encourage Juneau women to breast-feed their children, local organizations are sponsoring "Breastfeeding ... Feel the Love Generation to Generation," 1-4 p.m. Saturday in the conference room of Bartlett Regional Hospital's administration building.

Gael Holdsworth, mother of 15-month-old twins Emily and Imogen, is one of the speakers at the event.

"Babies are meant to be breast-fed," said Holdsworth, who considers formula "artificial." "It's the norm for humans to be fed milk from their mothers."

Health officials say breast-feeding is preferable to bottle-feeding for several reasons. Breast-fed children have shown a decreased incidence of allergies, asthma, respiratory problems, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome and diabetes, plus slightly higher IQs and a potentially lower risk of heart disease. And a study done in China showed that those who breast-fed their babies for two years or longer reduced their risk of breast cancer by 50 percent.

"We would like anyone who is thinking about being pregnant, is pregnant, is breast-feeding a baby or would like to learn more about supporting a breast-feeding mom to come, from husbands to aunts and mothers-in-law," said coordinator Joni Leet, a licensed dietitian who serves as SEARHC's community dietitian. "What we want to focus on is success and how to make it through any difficulties or scheduling problems."

Nursing is a time of exchanging smiles and warmth. "The distance between the baby's eyes and the mother's face is ideal" for communication in the first months after birth when eye focus is still developing, Leet said. "Also, breast milk is the optimum food for a baby. It contains essential fatty acids that are essential in brain development."

The event will begin with an educational display. At 1:30, a panel of women will convene, including Holdsworth; Joni Gill-Pico, a first-time mom who uses a breast pump; Jamie Siivila, a teen-age mom still attending school; Debi Ballam, a lactation consultant with Bartlett who gives pre-natal classes; and Dr. Priscilla Valentine, a family practice physician.

There will also be time for questions, catalogs of clothing that make breast-feeding easier and breast pumps that can be rented.

For details about the seminar, call Joni Leet at 463-4092, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sponsors of the free event include the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, Bartlett, the Women Infants Children nutrition program, the Family Birthing Center, Healthy Families and the LaLeche League.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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