May 5, 2013 • 01:22:24 p.m.

Ban the bags: Centegra Health System stops providing new moms formula to promote breastfeeding

By JAMI KUNZER - jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Lisa McIntyre of Walworth, Wis., holds her newborn son, Caleb, while waiting for her discharge papers at Centegra Memorial Medical Center in Woodstock on Thursday, May 2, 2013. Centegra Health System ended the practice of sending new mothers home with commercial formula bags beginning April 1. Centegra Hospital-McHenry and Centegra Hospital-Woodstock will “Ban the Bags” to increase breastfeeding rates. (Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com)

Heading home with her fourth child delivered at Centegra Hospital, Lisa McIntyre's no stranger to the routine.

But this time around, she won't be taking home any baby formula offered by the hospital.

Through a new "Ban the Bags" initiative, Centegra ended the practice of sending new mothers home with samples of commercial formula bags. The hope is without the formula, they'll be more inclined to breastfeed and to keep at it for at least a year.

McIntyre, who has breastfed all of her children, is all for the initiative. 

"I think it's a great idea," she said as she cradled her newborn, 7-pound, 9-ounce Caleb at the Woodstock hospital.

"If you send formula home, you're tempted. Sometimes it might be easier as a quick alternative, but in the long run, it's better for the baby [to breastfeed]," she said.

"You're giving [breastfeeding] more of a chance," added her husband, Caleb's father, Bill. 

The Walworth, Wis., couple always has supported breastfeeding because of the health benefits it provides babies. It helps their immune systems and makes them less prone to ear infections and other illnesses, they said.

Instead of the formula samples, new mothers are sent home with a gift of an insulated bag, reusable ice pack, health promotions items, nursing pads, bottles for pumped breast milk and other related supplies as well as information on breastfeeding and other resources.

Mothers who choose to feed their babies formula still will be able to do so at both of Centegra's hospitals in Woodstock and McHenry, said Valerie Keller, a lactation consultant at the Centegra Breastfeeding Resource Center.

While in the hospital, those mothers will be given formula if that's what they want, she said. They just won't be sent home with any samples, as in years' past. And they'll still be able to use the insulated bag, Keller said.

That way, while promoting breastfeeding, the hospital isn't promoting any certain commercial brand of formula, Keller said.

"Studies have shown that If a mom is given a certain brand in the hospital, they'll stay with that name-brand and end up paying 30 percent more for it at the store than other brands," she said.

The grass-roots campaign is based on research that shows the longer a mother breastfeeds, the healthier the baby, she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, and that breastfeeding continue at least until the end of the first year. 

"We're trying to base all of our practices off of current research, and we're trying to bring that practice to our moms," Keller said. "The best practice now is providing breastfeeding support and resources within the community so they continue to breastfeed as long as they desire."

Jennifer Sebestyen, a Lake in the Hills mom of three, including a 5-year-old and 15-month-old twin daughters, likes the idea of promoting breastfeeding and providing as many resources as possible. 

But, she said, she has mixed feelings about the initiative.

"In my head, it was never an option to give my kids formula, but it was easy for me," she said. "I had plenty of milk that came naturally. But I have plenty of friends that struggled with it, that didn't produce the milk, and it was stressing them out . . .

"I just have so many friends that weren't able to nurse that I would feel bad for them if they felt bad about themselves not being able to do it. ... It's a difficult time to have a newborn regardless of what choice you make. And that's not good for the baby if you're stressed."

For some new moms, sending them home with one or two canisters of formula could take the pressure off a bit, Sebestyen said.

In Illinois, 76.8 percent of babies were breastfed when they were born, according to the 2012 Breastfeeding Report Card released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2012, the number of babies who were still breastfeeding at six months of age decreased to 49.8 percent. At a year, 25.3 percent of babies still were breastfed.

New mothers are given this information along with resources that promote theirs and their babies' health, Keller said. 

They also receive information on the McHenry County Department of Public Health, which can provide financial assistance for formula and other supplies to those who qualify.

"We make sure the moms in our community are very well taken care of," Keller said.

The Centegra Breastfeeding Resource Center is available not just for those who deliver at Centegra's hospitals, but to any families looking for support or information regarding breastfeeding, she said.

Lisa McIntyre breastfed her first three children, ages 13, 9 and 5, while working as a physical therapist. Returning to work 12 weeks after delivering, she worked full time after her first child was born, but was able to pump her breast milk. She now works part time.

Through the pumped milk, dad Bill is able to help with the feedings. 

"He does a lot of the burping," Lisa added with a laugh.

"I think it's important for the fathers to be supportive," Bill said. "I know there are times when things get rough. The father does need to be supportive, otherwise it's tough to continue when you're trying to work through those difficult times."


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