CHAMPAIGN — Linda Steinberg knows it can be a challenge for new moms to continue breastfeeding when they go back to work.
She also knows it's worth the effort, she says.
"We see a big decrease at the eight- to 12-week mark," says Steinberg, a lactation counselor who works with breastfeeding mothers at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. "Research shows we can attribute that to women having to go back to work."
About three-quarters of babies born in the U.S. are breastfed at the start of their lives, but the percentage falls to about 44 percent at six months, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of babies born in 2008, the latest data available.
Breastfeeding falls off even more when it's the exclusive form of feeding: Only 35 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed at three months and about 15 percent at six months.
The CDC wants to expand breastfeeding as one of the best ways to boost the health of both mothers and children.
But how much support a woman gets from family, employers and even her infant's day care center all play a role in how successful her breastfeeding will be, Steinberg says.
Women returning to work need to take two or three brief breaks during an average work day to pump breast milk, Steinberg says.
Taking those pumping breaks can cause stress when employers aren't supportive, the workload is heavy and coworkers resent those breaks, she says.
Breast milk supply is "use it or lose it," she says.
"From the women I talk to, most of the time women can't keep up with their pumping schedule when they go back to work," Steinberg said.
State law (Public Act 92-0068 ) requires employers with five or more non-family employees to provide daily unpaid breaks to women who need to pump breast milk. It also requires those employers to make a reasonable effort to provide a private place other than a bathroom stall to pump.
Some local employers are friendly environments for breastfeeding mothers, and that includes her own, Steinberg says.
Moms working for the public health district have a private room with a rocking chair, couch, changing table and dim lighting to pump or breastfeed. And if they prefer not to pump, they can bring their babies into work to feed them, or take break time to go home and feed their babies, she said.
Those workplaces supporting breastfeeding help reap more than health advantages for mother and baby: Moms have less guilt about being at work because they feel they're able to do something for their babies while they're away from them, and their babies tend to be sick less, so they miss fewer work days, Steinberg said.
"Typically, once an employer gets educated to benefits of breastfeeding, you see an employer get on board," she adds.
Steinberg has seen a big difference breastfeeding can make in the health of her own two children, she says.
When her 5-year-old son was a baby, she started supplementing breast milk with formula when he was 8 weeks old, and he had 11 ear infections by the time he was age 3, she said.
But she exclusively breastfed her 15-month-old daughter for the first nine months, then started her on some solid food, "but she's never had an ounce of formula," Steinberg said.
Her daughter has had just one ear infection, she said, and other than the occasional runny nose while she's teething and some diaper rash, she's never been sick.
The American Academy of Pediatrics earlier this year reaffirmed its position recommending exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life. After six months, pediatricians advise, breastfeeding should continue in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months, then continued for as long as it's mutually desired by mother and baby.
The recommendation is supported by health outcomes that include the following, according to the pediatricians organization:
— Breastfed babies are better protected from respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases, allergies, asthma and eczema.
— Breastfeeding reduces the chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by more than one-third and the chance of adolescent or adult obesity by 15-30 percent.
— For moms, breastfeeding promotes mothering behavior, a faster return of the uterus to pre-pregnancy size, a delay in the return of menstrual periods to help keep iron in the body and a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer.
— Breastfeeding can also help moms burn calories and keep bones strong.
Steinberg said she knows breastfeeding isn't a cure-all for infant health, and that for each woman, breastfeeding — how frequently and for how many months — is an individual decision.
"I'm going to support a mom in whatever breastfeeding she wants to do," she adds.
Two breastfeeding events through The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District
— Working Mom's Breastfeeding Expo
2-6 p.m. Aug. 2
201 W. Kenyon Road, C.
Included will be information about breastfeeding support and health care services, lactation counselors to answer questions, local businesses with displays, sign-ups for breastfeeding classes, free samples, raffle for a free electric breast pump, information about how to breastfeed after returning to work and handle it with your employer and lists of breastfeeding-friendly employers and day care centers.
Crafts, snacks and face-painting will be provided to keep small children entertained.
Not a working mom? This expo is open to all pregnant and new moms interested in breastfeeding and those who want to learn more about community services for moms and babies.
The Big Latch On
9:30-11:30 a.m., Aug. 3-4
201 W. Kenyon Road, C.
Choose one of the two days to participate.
This is the first time the C-U Public Health District will be a host site for this event, in which groups of breastfeeding women come together at registered locations to latch their children at the same time for one minute. Breastfeeding moms in Champaign County will be joining those around the country to try and break a record for the most women breastfeeding simultaneously.
This year, the latch minute will take place at 10:30 a.m., and registration begins at 9:30 a.m.
The rest of the time will be socializing with other breast-feeding moms, according to Linda Steinberg, WIC breastfeeding peer counselor for the health district.
More information: http://www.biglatchon.org