The Herald Bulletin

April 22, 2013

Mama knows best

Class teaches teens the benefits of breast-feeding

By Baylee Pulliam
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — When Mia Fuller gave birth to her son, Kaiden, she knew she wanted to breast-feed.

“At the beginning, it was a little uncomfortable,” she said. “But he just smiled and it really bonded us.”

Now the high school junior has teamed up with Community Hospital Anderson to encourage other teen mothers-to-be to make the same decision.

She and Kaiden posed for a life-size cardboard cutout, which Community Anderson lactation consultant Elizabeth Arnett, RN, uses as an example when she speaks to classes at Anderson High School.

The goal isn’t to advocate teen pregnancy, Arnett said. “I’m just saying that when the time is right, I hope you consider breast-feeding, because it’s really the best choice.”

Breast-feeding has numerous benefits, she said, including financial savings, convenience and improved health for both mother and child.

Speaking to a parenting class last week, she asked, “Who has a family history of heart disease?”

Four or five hands went up.

“Diabetes? Asthma?” The same hands.

“I’m seeing the same hands over and over,” Arnett said. “You guys are going to have to breast-feed.”

The nutrients in breast milk can help ward off those and other health problems, Arnett said, in addition to giving baby healthy teeth, good eyesight and an IQ boost of up to 10 points.

“That’s just a small list, and doesn’t include the benefits for mama,” she said.

For example, mom can expect increased self esteem because she’s able to provide for every one of her baby’s needs. She’ll also get her figure back sooner, Arnett said, since the process of producing milk and breast-feeding burns about 500 calories per day.

“So many moms will come to the hospital with a giant belly,” she said, “And they’ll have skinny jeans in their bag to wear home. Hate to bust your balloon, but that’s not going to happen automatically.”

But when it comes down to it, “it’s a real-life numbers game,” she said.

Baby bottles and formula are a $13.1 billion per year industry. That’s about $4,000 per family to feed a child for one year — money that could be spent on 250 movie tickets, 25 pairs of Ugg boots, 20 iPhones or 650 Big Mac combo meals, Arnett said.

“There’s a lot (about breast-feeding) that mamas don’t know,” she said. By giving teens the facts and figures, she hopes to also dispel some misconceptions. For example, that it’s “icky,” “uncomfortable,” or that moms will have to expose their breasts in public.

And it’s important to target teens, Fuller said, because many of them are pregnant now or will be by the time they graduate. In 2010, Indiana had 8,756 girls aged 19 and under who became pregnant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

When Arnett spoke at AHS last week, there were a few among the students in teacher Katherine Loser’s parenting class.

“Thirty years ago when I wanted to nurse, there was no support,” Loser said. “If we can change the culture at this age, they’ll be more likely to consider it in the future.”

For the time being, the classes — partially funded through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — are only in Anderson High School. Arnett plans to continue every semester, possibly adding a second session in the school’s child development course.

Find Baylee Pulliam on Facebook and @BayleeNPulliam on Twitter, or call 648-4250.