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A New Mother’s Dilemma: For Some, Help With Breastfeeding Isn’t Always There

Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series. Here's part one and here's part three.

Reported by Katie Schoolov

Breastfeeding rates in the U.S. fall short of federal goals, especially among African-American and Latina women. Some experts believe these disparities are due more to socioeconomic factors than race.

Socioeconomic Barriers To Breast-Feeding


Robin Kaplan, president, San Diego Breastfeeding Center Foundation


At a prenatal yoga class in San Marcos, Lisa Bandong takes her students through their poses.

“Good! I see shoulders trying to relax down, beautiful," she said.

As Bandong walks around the room, she glances at each student, and offers some corrections. Then she addresses the whole class.

"One more full breath like this, sending in love, love, love into your baby, baby’s receiving it, and he’s saying ‘Mama, I want peace in the world,’ sending out peace with the exhale.”

Some of these women are ready to give birth any day.

It's harder than it looks

Pricila Marquez had her son, Axel, a couple of months ago. She likes staying connected with her yoga friends. Marquez has been telling them about her challenges with breastfeeding.

“It’s a lot more difficult than what it looks like," she said. "I mean, you see women just breastfeeding everywhere. I have more respect for them now, because it takes a lot from your body, your mind, physically and emotionally as well, too.”

Photo credit: Katie Schoolov

Pricila Marquez is shown sitting at a prenatal yoga class, on Aug. 9, 2016.

Before the advent of formula, virtually all girls grew up seeing mothers breastfeed their babies.

No longer a breast-feeding culture

Lactation consultant Vicki Wolfrum, who died in October, said we no longer live in a breastfeeding culture.

“Most young women giving birth today have only seen bottle-feeding," she said. "And they only know about schedules, and they really don’t know what normal, natural, instinctual breast-feeding looks like.”

That’s why many new moms need help with breast-feeding.

Carolina Alban-Stoughton, who gave birth to her son, Kai, earlier this year, said she couldn’t have breastfed her baby without it.

“You really need guidance. You really need someone to walk you through it, and there’s really a science behind it,” she said.

Hospital staff typically provide the kind of hands-on assistance that new moms need.

Photo credit: Katie Schoolov

Stephanie Jardin holds her daughter, Avery, on Aug. 9, 2016.

Stephanie Jardin, who recently gave birth to her second child, remembered learning some techniques, but they just didn’t take.

“They give you all the basics, right from the get go, but you’re just kind of overwhelmed that just you just brought life into the world, that it’s kind of in one ear, and out the other," she said.

For new moms who still need help with breast-feeding after they go home, there are support groups and lactation consultants.

Socioeconomic barriers

Those resources are easier to find in affluent parts of the county like La Jolla and Encinitas. They’re much harder to come by in poorer areas like Barrio Logan and Southeast San Diego.

Women who live in these areas face other barriers to breastfeeding, said Dr. Yelennia Palacios, a medical resident at the San Ysidro Health Center.

“Here, in our community, the women may be more likely to be single mothers, they may not have family as readily available to help. And they may have to go (back) to work earlier than others, too," Palacios said.

At their main clinic in Chula Vista, Palacios and other staff have created a support group for new moms.

Photo credit: Katie Schoolov

At a San Ysidro Health Center clinic in Chula Vista, Mayra Moreno looks on as her baby daughter, Ambar, is examined by Dr. Yelennia Palacios.

Creating supports to encourage breastfeeding

On a weekday morning, Mayra Moreno comes in with her three-month-old daughter, Ambar. She tells Palacios how things are going.

“At first, I had to combine breast-feeding with formula," she said. "Lately, when I’m on the run, I’ll give her a couple of ounces of formula. But other than that, I’m breastfeeding exclusively now.”

When Moreno came home from the hospital, she wasn’t totally comfortable with breastfeeding. Luckily, she got some help from Layla Fitzhugh, the Health Center’s in-house lactation consultant.

Fitzhugh uses a puppet and a mock breast to show new moms how to position their babies.

“You want the baby to latch well onto the nipple, and have the bottom lip out," she said, as she worked with the puppet. "And so, I just have some visual aids so that people can understand that it may be uncomfortable for them. But you’ll work out the kinks, and be on your way.”

Photo credit: Katie Schoolov

Mayra Moreno breastfeeds her daughter, Ambar, as lactation consultant Layla Fitzhugh looks on, on Sept. 2, 2016.

Palacios said not all women are familiar with the health benefits of breastfeeding. And for new moms who are feeling overwhelmed and uncomfortable with breastfeeding, the ease of formula can be hard to resist.

Even so, Palacios said it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind.

“Every woman wants the best for their child. And it’s not that Latina women don’t want to breast-feed, it’s just there are barriers," she said. "We need to help, and alleviate those barriers, so that we can be up to par with the other communities.”


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