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SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ready to go home with her new baby, Vanessa Walker was still making up her mind. "I'm thinking I'll bottle-feed in the day and breastfeed at night," she said.
Obstetrician Dr. Kiran Patel strolled into her Thomas Memorial room. "Want to hear what I have to say about that?" he asked.
"Sure!" Walker said. "You're my doctor. I love you." Two days earlier, he delivered her baby.
"For the next six months," Patel said, "the best one thing you can do is to feed your baby nothing but your own milk." She nodded and raised her eyebrows. "If you do, you'll give yourself and your baby a great gift," he said, smiling.
"Breastfeeding gives your baby lots of immunities, but let's look about what it can do for you," he said. "It lowers your risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer... And makes it easier for you to lose weight you gained during pregnancy..."
His little speech took maybe three minutes. He slipped in the fact that nursing the baby lowers a child's risk of obesity, pneumonia, diarrhea, allergies, stomach problems, diabetes, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, etc. "You'd spend a lot less time at the pediatrician's office or the hospital," he said. "Fewer doctor bills."
"You're making me think," Walker said.
"And it's free," he said, shrugging.
Breastfeeding consultant Jenny Morris was leaning against the wall. "I promise you, I didn't pay him to say any of that," she said. Everyone laughed. Patel and Walker hugged.
"If more doctors would talk straight like that, it would make a huge difference," Morris said, walking down the hall. "Especially if they'd do it before the baby's born. Of course, the way I see it, some breastfeeding is better than none."
'Mothers often aren't sure what to do'
Jenny Morris has a job most people don't know exists. She helps one mother at a time get the hang of breastfeeding, raising West Virginia's low breastfeeding rates one baby at a time.
She is a certified lactation consultant, employed by the Women Infant and Children's program. She is available to WIC mothers 24/7. "It's a crazy job," she said. "About 4,000 mommies have my cell phone number."
Her services could go for $100 an hour on the private market. At Thomas Memorial, and CAMC Women and Children's Hospital, they are free.
She's been at it 14 years. Certain facts keep her going:
The American Medical Association and an array of medical associations -- even the formula industry -- now recommend mothers breastfeed only for six months at least.
"But young mothers pay more attention to their doctor, grandma or friends than they do to the AMA," Morris said.
Each week, she visits breastfeeding moms at CAMC and Thomas Memorial to help them resolve dilemmas that might make them quit.
Contrary to popular myth, "mothers often aren't sure what to do," she said. The first few weeks, a lot give up if someone doesn't help, she said. "There are lots of tricks to it."
She doesn't try to change the minds of women who have decided to bottle-feed. "I concentrate on mothers who say they want to breastfeed or aren't sure."