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Will Latch On catch on in Mississippi?


Alicia Barnes and her 18-month-old son, Ennis, participate in Saturday’s La Leche League Latch On! event at 929 Coffee Bar in Starkville.

Alicia Barnes and her 18-month-old son, Ennis, participate in Saturday’s La Leche League Latch On! event at 929 Coffee Bar in Starkville. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff


Slim Smith



At the Indianapolis 500, the race starts with the announcement, "Gentlemen, start you engines!" 


At the Kentucky Derby, it's "And they're off!" 


At the 929 Coffee Bar in Starkville Saturday, it was "Ladies, start your babies!" 


Fifteen moms and 16 children (Mande Douglas of Columbus drew double-duty with her two kids), participated in the La Leche League's Big Latch On!, a nationwide event where moms across the country participated in a simultaneously breastfeeding. 


As the countdown toward the 10:30 a.m. start proceeded, Alicia Barnes and Dr. Linda McGrath of the Starkville-Columbus La Leche League chapter instructed moms to raise a white card when they had achieved a "latch on'' with their infants. In a matter of seconds, all of the moms had achieved the connection, nursing their babes for the requisite one-minute of the nationwide event. 


The babies ranged in age from just a few weeks to two-years-old. Douglas, who nursed the children she calls by their nicknames, had six-month old "Turtle" on her right breast and 21-month-old "Frog" on her left.  


The eldest of her menagerie, "Lion" is three now and nursed until age 2. 


For Douglas, the practice of breast-feeding was something she figured out for herself. 


"I was new to the area and my mom had died, so I really didn't have anyone to talk to about it," Douglas said. "I finally got some information by watching some YouTube videos." 


A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 77 percent of moms tried breast-feeding in 2010. A decade earlier it was 71 percent. While recent studies indicate that breast-feeding is gaining momentum -- three out of four moms breast-feed in the weeks after the birth -- most switch to bottle feeding. 


In Mississippi, half of new moms start out breastfeeding, but only five percent are still breastfeeding by six months, noted Barnes, who hosted the event and participated with her son, Ennis, who is 18 months old. 


Bottle feeding became commonplace in the U.S. in the early 20th Century. By the 1950s, bottle feeding was the dominant means of infant feeding. 


Barnes said that has created a deficit of information on breastfeeding in recent generations. 


"I think a lot of the reason for that is they don't have the knowledge they need," Barnes said. "It's kind of a lost tradition. Their moms didn't breastfeed, so they can't give them much useful information. I think that's why these kinds of groups are so important. You can share information." 


One of the biggest fears for moms who are breastfeeding for the first time is knowing if their baby is getting enough nutrition. 


"With a bottle, it's pretty simple, because you can see how much milk your baby is getting," Barnes said. "Obviously, you don't have that when you are breastfeeding, so moms are worried. How do you know? Well, is your baby growing? Is he healthy? Is he making wet diapers? If he is, he's getting enough milk." 


Breast-feeding rates remain highest in Idaho and lowest in Mississippi.  


Why does Mississippi lag behind other states in the growth of breast-feeing? McGrath, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on how medical professionals communicate the breastfeeding option to expectant mothers, says OB/GYNs have not been very forthcoming with the information. 


"What I found was that 89 percent of the OB/GYNs said they had the information on the benefits of breastfeeding, but only 69 percent effectively communicated that information to their patients," McGrath said. 


McGrath and Barnes hope that will change. 


"You know, there is so much being said about eating locally-produced foods these days," Barnes said. "It's an idea that's catching on all over. Well, the way I look at it, kids have to eat, too, right? 


"Breastfeeding? You can't get more local than that."


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]



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