I know there are many people coming to this blog who are wondering who we are, what we're doing and why we're doing it. Allow me to fill you in on a few things...
My name is Jennifer Vetere and I'm both the founder of The Orlando Breastfeeding Bag Project and a mom to two children -- including one nursing baby girl. We are a grassroots effort based off of a project that began in Laramie, Wyoming.
Who We Are:
The Orlando Breastfeeding Bag Project is simply a group of volunteers who have banded together to help increase the breastfeeding rates in our home state of Florida. We are moms, grandmothers, midwives, lactation consultants, business owners, sisters, daughters, husbands, sons, all coming together for a common goal. While we are a true non-profit (all proceeds from fundraisers or donations will be put towards achieving our goals), as of the current date we are not a 501(c)3 charity. We have a goal to raise funds to cover the costs of incorporation and the IRS filing fee for a charity (those two things alone will total close to $1,000) and be an IRS-certified non-profit by 2011.
What We Are Doing:
Many mothers have always found it a little odd to be handed a bag filled with formula upon giving birth while the doctors advise breastfeeding -- it seemed like a striking contradiction. As there is no debate anymore as to the supremacy of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, we are looking to partner with our local hospitals, doctor's offices, midwives, and WIC to provide an alternative to the traditional formula bags -- a true breastfeeding support bag.
Our mission is to educate, support and encourage new mothers to breastfeed long-term through the distribution of free 'welcome bags' in our local hospitals and doctor's offices. These bags will be created using only funds from fundraiser or donations, will support and encourage breastfeeding mothers with accurate information and include only local, natural, and breastfeeding-supportive information, coupons and samples. Our main, ongoing goal is to ensure that every mother who gives birth in the Central Florida area receives one of our bags for free -- these bags will include educational materials and local resources along with free samples, coupons, discount codes and other supportive items like water bottles, nursing pads, onesies, and hot/cold compresses. We are filling our bags with a variety of local, natural and pro-breastfeeding companies to help showcase the wide variety of helpful items that are currently available to new mothers.
Why We Are Doing It
We, as a society, have a few things backwards. Couples will spend hundreds of dollars on preparing for birth -- hiring doulas, taking classes, reading books -- when it is something your body will do whether you're ready or not (see the numerous examples of women giving birth in cars, assisted only by slightly frightened spouses or police officers). However, we spend almost no time learning or preparing to breastfeed. Unlike giving birth, breastfeeding is a learned behavior. It takes time, dedication and support for both the mother and the baby to learn -- position, technique and latch are so crucial to breastfeeding pain-free. We feel so many breastfeeding relationships are terminated early because of inadequate support (or knowledge about the support available to them) or education -- it can be frustrating in the first few weeks when you're dealing with sleep deprivation unless you have an amazing support system. Instead of giving the mothers an easy out (which is what a can of free formula is), we're dedicated to giving mommas the necessary support, guidance and encouragement to successfully breastfeed.
Currently, Florida is one of the lowest rated states in regards to breastfeeding rates. According to the CDC's 2009 Breastfeeding Report Card, only 75.7% of new moms ever breastfeed their child and the rates drop to 37.2% at 6 months (only 11.9% exclusively) and 18.2% at 12 months. Only 30.7% are exclusively breastfeeding at three months. These statistics point to Florida as being in the bottom third of states when it comes to breastfeeding rates in four of the five categories. Needless to say, Florida failed to reach the Healthy People 2010 goals the CDC put forth (75% initially breastfeeding, 50% breastfeeding at 6 months and 25% breastfeeding at 12 months).
The US Surgeon General advocates exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months and both UNICEF and the WHO advocate breastfeeding for at least 2 years. The AAP advocates breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months. There is no debate among doctors and healthy advocacy groups as to the best way to feed infants and numerous studies have come out showing the short and long-term health benefits for mothers and their breastfed infants. The journal Pediatrics has estimated that if 90% of Americans breastfeed their infants for 6 months over 900 baby's lives and billions of dollars in health care costs would be saved (around $13 billion). A 2001 study estimated that $3.6 billion could be saved if 50% breastfed their infants. While many continue to believe that breastfeeding is simply a lifestyle choice, doctors are trying to spread the message that it's a public health issue.
Why does it save lives and reduce health care costs? Studies have shown that if 100 more women breastfeed a total of 12 months in their life, 1 case of diabetes will be prevented (in the mother)... if 125 more women breastfeed a total of 12 months, 1 case of heart disease will be prevented. In mothers, studies show a decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, postpartum depression (and if they do get it, it is shorter and less severe), breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis. Among the infants, studies show a decreased risk of eye infections, stomach infections, respiratory infections, diarrheal infections, necrotizing enterocolitis, diabetes, asthma, allergies, obesity, SIDS, childhood leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, and more. Breastfeeding helps strengthen the immune system and it is easier for infants to digest than cow's milk, reducing the likelihood of reflux and gas.
Mothers who breastfeed will miss less work (as their infant is sick less), thereby reducing the cost and strain on companies Families will save money both on health care costs (their children don't go to the doctors as often) and formula costs (which can reach $1,500 a year for powdered formula). The environment also benefits from more mothers breastfeeding as well. Breastfeeding creates no landfill waste nor does it contribute to pollution through manufacturing or transportation.
So many people ask us 'why'? We ask them "why not?" It saves lives, reduces health care costs, benefits businesses, families and the environment... why wouldn't we help more mothers successfully breastfeed?