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Nursing infants provides health benefits (8/12/98)

Breast feeding infants can give them a head start physically and emotionally. The numerous benefits include a lower risk of diarrhea and reduced incidence of lower respiratory, ear and urinary infections. Even so, the percentage of new mothers nursing is low.

"About 70 to 80 percent of mothers leave the hospital nursing, but after a few weeks at home that percentage drops by 60 percent," says Alice Gong, MD, associate professor, department of pediatrics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "The reason for the drop varies. Maybe the baby doesn't latch on correctly. Perhaps the mother's breasts become sore, or she might fear she is not making enough milk. Rather than seek help, she gives up."

Layne Peebles is one new mother who feels strongly about nursing. "When I was pregnant I made the decision to nurse my newborn son, Thomas, because I wanted to do everything I could to help him be healthy."

She understands, though, when mothers throw in the towel and abandon nursing. "I think women may feel tied down and it may be easier for them to just get a bottle out, but they donít know what they are missing," says Pebbles. "Nursing Thomas is an incredible bonding experience, and it's something y ou can't begin to understand until you do it."

Besides the bonding element between mother and child, Dr. Gong emphasizes that breast milk is the best source of nutrients for the baby. "Breast milk is the gift of life in the sense that as the baby grows and nutrient needs change, so does the milk. The mother's body knows just what the baby needs from birth to one year of age."

Other big advantages for breast feeding are convenience and cost. Unlike formulas which have to be made, stored in sterile bottles, then heated for use, breast milk is always readily available and requires no preparation time. Also, it's estimated about $900 will be spent on formula for the first year of a baby's life, whereas costs associated with breast feeding are nominal.

In some situations mothers should not nurse their babies. Physicians advise mothers not to breast feed who use illegal drugs, have active untreated tuberculosis or have the AIDS virus.

For those mothers who do nurse, Dr. Gong recommends continuing the practice for up to one year. She adds that at one time breast feeding was recommended up to age six months, so infants would receive the health benefits from nursing. That recommendation time has now been extended to one year.

Contact: Myong Covert (210) 567-2570