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Breastfeeding touted as obesity preventer

Many women know the power of breastfeeding, the bonding it brings and the nutritional boost it gives their newborns.

But now La Leche League, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and local women say studies are touting nursing as a way to combat childhood obesity.

“If you plant a rose bush in fertile ground, it will have the best blossoms possible,” said Laurie Chamberlin, owner of Birth Source, a birthing and nursing consulting company in Grass Valley. “You’re creating the best possible environment.”



Chamberlin and about 25 members of the Breastfeeding Coalition of Nevada County recently held an awareness walk at the Nevada County Fairgrounds which emphasized natural feeding technique as an obesity prevention strategy.

“The leptin anti-obesity hormone (in mother’s milk) is one reason for it,” said Arly Helm, a lactation consultant for the Nevada County Health Department. “In formula, there’s corn syrup, which we’re realizing probably promotes obesity” in children.




“Their amino acid profile is probably not the same with formula or cow’s milk, so you get over-consumption with formula just to make up the minimum human proteins,” Helm said. “We haven’t nailed down every variable, but a lot of states have made breastfeeding part of their obesity programs.”

Easier to digest

One of those states is California, where health-conscious Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has included nursing as part of his Obesity Prevention Plan.

“Breastfeeding, with its many benefits for mothers and babies, is recognized as a way to reduce childhood overweight and related chronic diseases,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that breastfeeding offers protection against childhood overweight,” the CDC said – though experts admit “the mechanism by which this protection occurs is not clearly understood.”

A German scientific study published in the British Medical Journal in 2003 showed babies who were breastfed from three to five months were one-third less likely to be obese at age 6. The Bavarian study said six months of breastfeeding increased that rate to 43 percent and 72 percent at one year.

“The proteins in human milk are also easier to metabolize than the large (proteins) found in artificial infant milk and therefore are not stored to later become fat, thereby decreasing the risk of obesity,” La Leche League said in a news release about the German study.

Mother’s milk was the primary food for human newborns for millions of years before food became processed and grocery stores came into existence. Helm said nursing started to decrease in the United States after World War II.

“In the modern space age, we thought we could do better with something technical,” Helm said.

But breastfeeding remains the best way to feed a newborn, according to groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization.

Coaching gets over hurdles

Nursing may not possible or preferable for all women, according to KidsHealth, a national children’s well-being Web site.

If mothers are having trouble breastfeeding, the Web site suggests complimenting mother’s milk with formula. KidsHealth encourages nursing first, but also said today’s moms have time demands and personal comfort levels that may preclude nursing as the only way to feed a newborn.

While the CDC and others contends breastfeeding combats obesity and provides immunity for children, many new mothers have trouble doing it. Sometimes, a child doesn’t seem to want to take the breast, and warming a bottle of milk is an easy alternative for a worn-out mom.

Erika Cobian-Mitchell of Grass Valley had trouble at first, but now can breastfeed her twin boys simultaneously.

“It’s hard at first, because you’re not sure what you’re doing,” Cobian-Mitchell said at the recent awareness walk. “It’s even hard to hold them at first.”

Helm visited Cobian-Mitchell at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley hours after the twins were born.

“She knows how to teach moms to do it,” Cobian-Mitchell said. “I don’t think I would have stayed with it” without Helm’s coaching and prior training sessions at the county’s Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

Dads can help

Cobian-Mitchell and other mothers at the walk said the support of family and friends is key in successful nursing, but they can also be enablers for stopping.

“They support you, but they see you not sleeping and in pain, so they want to give (the children) a bottle, and that’s not what I wanted,” Cobian-Mitchell said.

“Studies show the more support women have in breastfeeding, the more they’ll do it and they’ll do it longer,” said Kris Jessen-Mather, a nurse practitioner at Sierra Care Physicians in Grass Valley. “The husband is key in a lot of cases. They need to be patient and realize the things they can offer.

“Calm the fussy baby, fix meals for mom, listen and don’t offer solutions,” Jessen-Mather said. “At the beginning, when it’s most intense, is the most important time. That’s when moms are struggling with feeding.”

Tom Perez of Nevada City was a father on the walk and was convinced his wife’s nursing was advantageous for their children.

“We have an older son who was breastfed,” Perez said. “He hasn’t suffered the typical colds or ear infections, and I attribute it to the breastfeeding. I’m a supporter of it.”

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To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com, or call 477-4237.

Learn how to nurse your baby

The Nevada County Breastfeeding Coalition meets at 8:30 a.m. the third Wednesday of every month at the

Child Care Coordinating Council office behind Valet Cleaners at

640 East Main St., Grass Valley.


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