Breastfeeding moms go public in Philly for global campaign

Raising awareness about many health benefits of breastfeeding, dozens of moms gather in Philadelphia for the 'Big Latch.'

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As World Breastfeeding Week continues through Tuesday, nearly 30 breastfeeding moms from the Philadelphia area met at the Franklin Square Park to publicly feed their babies.

The Maternity Care Coalition hosted what it dubbed the “Big Latch” event Friday.

“Feel free to breastfeed,” Michelle Sutton of MCC’s Northeast MOMobile told the moms. “Come on and lift up those shirts. Get these babies. On your mark, get set, go!”

For one whole minute, moms fed their babies. From newborns to toddlers, children were cradled in their moms’ arms or sat on their laps to raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding.

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“Breastfeeding is really important because it’s the low-hanging fruit to support the health and well-being of babies — and also the mom,” said Katja Pigur, director of MCC breastfeeding services. “Especially in our area, we have a high infant mortality rate. So it’s kind of an easy way to improve the health of those babies.”

Breastfeeding can lower the risk for upper and lower respiratory infections, asthma, childhood obesity and intestinal infections, she said.

Recognizing that some mothers become frustrated when their babies have trouble latching on, Pigur encouraged them to seek out lactation support if they encounter trouble.

That’s advice Marissa Cooley, 21, of West Philadelphia has taken. When Cooley’s almost 2-month-old daughter, Kynsley, didn’t latch onto her breast initially, she used a nipple shield to help her baby access the milk.

“I’m really big on breastfeeding and normalizing breastfeeding,” Cooley said. “I really don’t have a lot of friends that are moms, or they are and they’re formula-feeding their baby. And it’s nice to be around people who support breastfeeding.”

Banking on healthy babies

There are other options for mothers who struggle with breastfeeding. On Tuesday, the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Mothers Milk Bank will open three milk depots in the Philadelphia area.

The facility opened in 2016 to fill the needs of 23 Pennsylvania hospitals, several in the Philadelphia area, with donated milk.

“The use of donor milk for ill or premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit who do not have access to their mother’s own milk is emerging as the standard of care across the country,” according to Denise O’Connor, executive director of the milk bank.

Using donor milk is associated with fewer complications, better outcomes, and shorter hospital stays, she said, nothing that in just two years, the use of donor milk among level 3 NICUs in Pennsylvania has increased from 37 percent to more than 75 percent.

Donors, who go through a simple but thorough screening process, are healthy lactating women who have excess breast milk.

“Opening the donation depots at LifeCycle Womancare and the Breastfeeding Resource Center locations will be a wonderful convenience for local donors, and we are grateful to these wonderful organizations for hosting this service for their communities,” said O’Connor. “Having a local presence will also spread the word about donation to help us meet the ever-growing demand as clinicians see what donor milk can do to help medically fragile children thrive.”

Have no shame

Jessy Ortiz held and nursed her 1-month-old daughter, Anjelize, at the Friday event.

“I’m here, I don’t have shame,” Ortiz said. “Cause sometimes you’re latching out of your comfort zone, in the community. I know people don’t want to treat you bad, but they look … intrigued. I’ve been in developing countries, and moms just take their shirts out and they don’t seem to have any issue.”

The “Big Latch” event was sponsored by the Philadelphia Department of Health, Acelleron, Baird, Health Partners Plans, and Pennsylvania Resource Organizations for Lactation Consultants. Other community vendors provided resources for moms and their children.

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