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Food costs soar - but not for folks versed in 'free lunch'
By Burt Constable | Daily Herald Staff

Edwina Froehlich

 

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Published: 5/2/2008 4:31 PM

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In the 1950s, less than one in four mothers breastfed their babies. In that bustling era boasting newfangled washing machines, television sets, hi-fis and jet planes, breastfeeding seemed so old-fashioned.

But Edwina Froehlich wouldn't give in.

"When they said the modern woman couldn't do it; that spurred me on because I couldn't believe the modern woman couldn't do it," remembers Froehlich, the mother of three boys. "I didn't believe that all of a sudden we had lost this natural ability. I was determined that I was going to breastfeed."

She did just that, and more. Froehlich, 93 and living in Inverness, is one of the seven local women who founded the breastfeeding advocacy group La Leche League International, headquartered in Schaumburg.

For 51 years, the La Leche League International (www.llli.org) has been preaching all the benefits of breast milk. Government health officials agree, and made breastfeeding part of a program called Healthy People 2010 with the goal of increasing breastfeeding to 75 percent of new moms by the end of the decade.

We topped that mark ahead of schedule. According to this week's U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 77 percent of babies born in 2005 and 2006 were breastfed. In 1986, slightly more than half of newborns were breastfed.

"Finally," says Jane Crouse, public relations associate for the La Leche League. "It's certainly good news that initiation rates are increasing…but, as always, there's more work to be done."

I can't help but think the economy plays a role. With the cost of formula, bottles, nipples, mixers, cleaning brushes and other accessories for the bottle-fed baby, a new mom can spend hundreds of dollars and hours of time on bottle-feeding.

Breastfeeding is free.

Money might be a factor, but education, support, culture and family role models play a bigger role in deciding who breastfeeds, experts say. Eighty percent of Mexican-Americans breastfeed, as do 79 percent of whites. The percentage of breastfeeding among African-Americans has jumped from 36 percent to 65 percent in 10 years.

While there are circumstances that prevent some mothers from breastfeeding, with good information and resources, the percentage could be higher.

"We have 95 to 98 percent breastfeeding nearly every month at our hospital," says La Leche League leader Connie Chiavario, a board-certified lactation consultant at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora.

"I know that in Illinois, there have been some good efforts in public health. A lot of low-income moms have attended breastfeeding classes through WIC," Chiavario says, talking about the government-run Women, Infants and Children program, which advocates breastfeeding but does provides free infant formula to qualifying families.

Illinois is one of the leading states in promoting breastfeeding. Beginning in 1995 with a law that excluded breastfeeding from being considered an act of "public indecency," the Legislature has promoted breastfeeding, even passing a law that exempts nursing moms from jury duty. A 2004 law, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park, gave women the right to breastfeed in almost all public places.

Republican Rep. Paul Froehlich of Schaumburg, the son of Edwina Froehlich, says Illinois leaders need to keep pushing the issue and make sure employers, working moms and everyone see breastfeeding "is the best" in most cases.

"And," adds an environmentally aware Crouse, "it's green."