McClatchy-Tribune News Service
April Herzig, 27, of Ann Arbor, Mich., a peer-to-peer lactation consultant for the Washtenaw County Health Department, embraces her daughter Sophia Herzig, 1, on Jan. 17 at the health department in Ypsilanti, Mich.
DETROIT — Erica McLeod, a mother of three, holds up what looks like a string of wooden beads, each one just a little bigger than the previous one.
She uses it to teach Rachel Trader, 22, an expectant mother who stopped breastfeeding her first child because she thought she wasn’t producing enough milk.
“I don’t want to do that this time,” says Trader, of Ypslanti, Mich., who is due May 13. “I want to do better this time.”
McLeod, of Ann Arbor, Mich., points to the smallest bead — about }-of-an inch across.
“This is how big the baby’s stomach is at a day old,” says McLeod, explaining that it holds 2 teaspoons of milk. “At a day old, your baby doesn’t need much more than this” at a feeding.
“You will produce enough; I guarantee you,” says McLeod.
McLeod, 34, is a peer-to-peer breastfeeding counselor for Washtenaw County, Mich., in a program that targets lower-income mothers who aren’t as likely as other women to breastfeed their babies.
With McLeod’s guidance over the next few months, Trader hopes to successfully breastfeed her second child and overcome the obstacles that led her to quit nursing Carson James Hunt, now 7 months old, just a few weeks after he was born.
“I feel more comfortable talking to people who know what they’re talking about,” says Trader, about the peer-to-peer counseling she’ll receive through the Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program.
Like expectant mothers and babies, Michigan’s breastfeeding statistics need nurturing.
Michigan ranks 37th among all states and the District of Columbia in the number of mothers who have ever breastfed their babies, with 69.3 percent of mothers saying they started breastfeeding, according to the 2011 Breastfeeding Report Card, compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But most mothers don’t stick with it, even though the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life to maximize health benefits.
Only 31 percent of Michigan mothers were exclusively breastfeeding by the time their babies were 3 months old, and only 16 percent continued to six months, according to the 2011 report card.
What matters more than how a doctor or lactation consultant instructs these women is the support they get from mother-to-mother counseling, said Julie Lothamer, the WIC program peer counselor coordinator for the Michigan Department of Community Health.
Women helping other breastfeeding women are the main tool in a statewide initiative, now in its second year, to boost breastfeeding among lower-income mothers through the WIC program. Using federal dollars, it employs mothers — currently 85 of them throughout the state — who themselves received WIC benefits and who are now trained to help other WIC mothers take to breastfeeding.
Lothamer says the women “relate well to the other moms and the barriers they have. They are moms who’ve walked in their shoes, who can say, ‘I know where you’re coming from and this is how I make it work,” says Lothamer. “These peers are gung ho.”
The program seeks to intercept pregnant mothers as soon as they apply for WIC benefits, and use the intervening months before they give birth to educate them about the benefits of breastfeeding for their babies and themselves.
Breastfeeding is tops among important preventive measures to boost children’s health.
“We’re trying to broaden the scope of women who get answers to their question prenatally ... but also a support person they know they can call,” says Lothamer.
Breastfeeding mothers can encounter many obstacles. There may be initial physical discomfort from breastfeeding done improperly. Fathers may encourage bottle use, so they can share in the bonding that comes from feeding.
Michigan is one of only five states — South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia and Idaho are the others — that has no laws protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed in public, Lothamer says.
“With our young moms, especially, that’s a fear for them,” she says. “They say, ‘I don’t want to be the mom who gets kicked off the bus, or get kicked out of a store because I’m breastfeeding.’”