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Aug 6, 2015

Breast is Best in Healthy Living

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from first to seventh August in more than one hundred seventy countries to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.  The last survey conducted on Breastfeeding in Belize showed that only fourteen percent of babies were exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives. While there are many reasons why mothers do not exclusively breastfeed their babies; one common factor is that when moms go back to work after their maternity leave, there simply isn’t time. This is why the focus for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week is centered on working moms with the theme: “Breastfeeding and Work – Let’s Make It Work.” Tonight in Healthy Living, we talk to one working mom and well known breastfeeding consultant, Penny Casasola, to find out more about overcoming this challenge.


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
Penny Casasola is a retired nurse and midwife. Since her certification as a lactation consultant, more commonly referred to as breastfeeding counselor, in 2009, she has been working with expecting and new moms in learning the dos and don’ts of breastfeeding.


Penny Casasola

Penny Casasola, Breastfeeding Counselor
“The baby gets all its fluid requirements—water, it quenches the thirst; it gets all the bodybuilding amino-acids, it gets minerals, it gets vitamins. I have had mothers said, ooh it noh taste good because it is salty. Well that’s mineral salts that strengthens teeth and bones so it is important for us to know and family to know that if you taste it and it doesn’t suit your palette, it wasn’t meant for you. It’s for the baby; the babies love it and they come back for more. But frequently, mother must be comfortable and pain free to begin with to have success and have the background in education and support. The mother also needs to understand that if it hurts, take it off…do not tolerate pain. Put your finger in the corner of the baby’s mouth, release the seal, reposition, start again. As many times as it takes to get it right, you’ll be fine.”


According to Nurse Penny, she spends much of her time dispelling common myths; specifically explaining exclusivity & that breastfeeding should be a pain free experience.


Penny Casasola

“Exclusive means that nothing except breast milk is fed to the baby—either directly, baby at the breast or expressed breast milk which is what mothers at work have to do. The biggest challenge is this belief that the baby must learn to suck other things besides the breast, which is strange. Even if they express the milk, we advocate giving it by cup, so the baby does not get nipple confusion because they can do that and not want to do to the breast. So because I think culturally, people are used to a baba, saying you can cup feed this baby from birth; it’s like that’s a novelty. And also breastfeeding hurts. That’s one of the biggest stumbling blocks. Who wants pain? You know so we have to erase that and explain the reason why we know it doesn’t hurt. If the nipple is well placed in the mouth, it won’t hurt. The hard palette will damage the breast if the nipple goes all the way to the soft palette it won’t. So deep latch.”


According to PAHO/WHO, research shows that breastfeeding benefits range from reduced infections and improved IQ’s for babies to lower risk of breast & ovarian cancer in mothers.  With so many benefits for mom & baby, why are we only at 14% exclusive breastfeeding in Belize?


Penny Casasola

“If you look at the statistics; that’s where they fell down. The statistics on breastfeeding fell when women started working and to the extent that they work now and so they quit because they’re separated from the baby. And if you are not emptying the breast on a regular basis, the breast will not produce the milk that the baby needs. So it is so very important for that working mother to get all the production that she can and that is part of the ILO convention.”


For Working mom, Venetia Eck-Salazar, there were several reasons as to why breastfeeding proved difficult.


Venetia Eck-Salazar

Venetia Eck-Salazar, Working Mom & Breastfeeding Advocate
“First of all when going back to work, the first day or the week or the entire month, you feel a sort of guilt that you have to leave the child or the baby at home so with that comes stress. We are not even talking about breastfeeding as yet. and then that separation anxiety that you experience, being at work, being sometimes unable to concentrate because you are worried about the little one or thinking about how they are being cared for. The second thing is really managing your time to get your day to day work done and actually have to go and express your milk. There are certain times, if you are chairing a meeting, you can’t just literally get up and say I’ll be back in twenty minutes. So you can do it, when the time permits and hopefully, if you are able to manage your time adequately, you can get it done. You’re also dealing with a mother who is tired. So beside managing the home, besides managing this new person in your life and the body changes, etc., I think the support mechanism that exists or should exist would be important.”


The working mom, when back in work must also make time to express the breast milk during the day. This is where the employers can show their support.


Penny Casasola

“Being separated from a baby does not stop you from producing milk and supplying all the needs for that baby’s nutrition. You can have the baby with you; in some cases, the ILO Convention 183, allows for mothers to get breaks to go and feed their baby at home or have the babies brought to them or express the milk in a safe place, which is not a bathroom, and take it home.”

Venetia Eck-Salazar

“I remember I had to attend a meeting in Barbados with the first child…it was like the week after going back to work and well you know the airline policy is that you can’t carry liquids. And so it really pained my heart that I have to go upstairs in the hotel, express the milk and throw it away really, because you can’t really store that and bring it back. It’s things like that and the separation anxiety from your baby that I think mothers really would need to adjust to. It is not unmanageable, but it definitely adds to the stress level. I find that breastfeeding then—I only breastfed for an extra month after going back to work—and I think had I managed that situation better, I could have done it for a longer time. I think more firms are accommodating giving you the time to go and breastfeed.”


Studies show that by accommodating breastfeeding moms, employers also benefit from having greater employee loyalty, reduced absenteeism—as breastfed baby get sick less often—employee retention and improved productivity.

As for breastfeeding counseling, Venetia explains how working with Nurse Penny made her become a breastfeeding advocate.


Venetia Eck-Salazar

“I didn’t even know that a lactation specialist that existed—first of all that definition and second of all that one is in Belize. It was Doctor Tracy Nicholas who recommended her. She came to my home, I think, at the eve of Easter when Bianca was born and incredible help, incredible support even to teach you how to hold the baby; I was doing it all wrong the first time. And just conveying that confidence that you know you have inside you and to tell you that you can do it.”

Penny Casasola
“In all primary care facilities in the districts and the Matron Roberts in Belize City have been certified as baby friendly, so they have that knowledge. And if they are overwhelmed, they can always call for a back up, for help, to come in.”
Venetia Eck-Salazar

“I was able to at least have more confidence in breastfeeding and to be more of an advocate for the actually breastfeeding to other mothers as well.”

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