August 03, 2010

The right steps can help mothers succeed at breastfeeding

August is Missouri Breastfeeding Month

Health experts see an increase in breastfeeding when new mothers follow the right steps.

Helping women take those steps is a priority at Hannibal Regional Hospital, the first hospital in Missouri to be designated “baby-friendly” by a program working to increase breastfeeding rates nationwide.

“Prior to adopting the baby-friendly practices about a year ago, we had about 62 percent of mothers starting to breastfeed,” said Dr. Sandra Ahlum, an obstetrician at Hannibal Regional Hospital. “Now that number has increased to about 77 percent.”

Even women who don’t plan to breastfeed, Ahlum said, often change their minds once the first step toward breastfeeding is taken – when the baby is put “skin-to-skin” with the mother immediately after birth.

Mothers who have given birth at Hannibal Regional Hospital say they appreciated the hospital’s support of breastfeeding.

“There is nothing like having your own baby and nursing,” said Erica Barnes, whose son, Truitt, was born June 28. “It’s such a special bond just between the two of us. It’s the best thing we can possibly do for Truitt.”

Hannibal Regional is the only Missouri hospital certified as baby-friendly by the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. The designation recognizes a hospital for adopting recommended steps to help women successfully breastfeed.

The steps to successful breastfeeding are the focus of this year’s Missouri Breastfeeding Month, observed annually in August, and World Breastfeeding Week, Aug. 1-7.

“Breast milk contains most of the nutrients a baby needs for the first six months,” said Margaret Donnelly, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. “Ideally, babies should continue to be breastfed – even while solid food is being introduced – until they are at least a year old.”

Nursing mothers can take several steps to establish consistent feeding and ensure a good milk supply:

  • Breastfeed within the first hour. Ask for the baby to be put skin-to-skin right after birth.
  • Room in with your baby. Keep the baby in your room all day and night so you can get to know your baby’s early signs of hunger.
  • Breastfeed on demand. When a newborn roots, makes sucking sounds, puts fist to mouth, or is starting to wake, this is a signal to feed your baby.
  • No bottles or pacifiers. Bottles and pacifiers often interfere with breastfeeding and cause babies not to nurse frequently enough.
  • Breastfeed exclusively. Providing only breast milk protects your milk supply and gives you and your newborn time to learn how to breastfeed.

“Right after she was born she laid with me skin-to-skin and nursed for about two hours,” said Lissa Biggs, who delivered her daughter, Lucy, at Hannibal Regional Hospital on July 12. “It made a big difference having her in the room, knowing that I am reading the signs that she is hungry, rather than waiting for a nurse to tell me.”

Babies benefit from breastfeeding in a number of ways, Donnelly said. Breastfed babies:

  • Have fewer health problems such as diarrhea, ear infections, respiratory infections and urinary tract infections
  • Have fewer problems with allergies and asthma
  • Are less likely to become obese as they grow older

Mothers benefit as well. Breastfeeding boosts a woman’s immune system, reduces bleeding after childbirth and helps a mother return sooner to her pre-pregnancy weight. Mothers who breastfeed also are at lower risk of developing breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.

More information about breastfeeding can be found at or by calling

Note: Audio associated with this news release is available at:

Images of Erica Barnes with son Truitt and of Lissa Biggs with daughter Lucy can be found at:

Video-taped interview clips and B roll is available at: