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Clayton health officials nuture breastfeeding awareness

A toddler let people know she breastfed in this May 23, 2011, file photo from a pro-breastfeeding protest rally in Forest Park. Clayton County health officials are promoting the health benefits of breastfeeding this week. (File Photo)

A toddler let people know she breastfed in this May 23, 2011, file photo from a pro-breastfeeding protest rally in Forest Park. Clayton County health officials are promoting the health benefits of breastfeeding this week. (File Photo)

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Leah Ashe breastfeeds her child during a pro-breastfeeding protest rally in Forest Park in this May 23, 2011, file photo. Mothers who breastfeed say it creates a special bond between them and their children. (File Photo)

JONESBORO — A mother goes through nine months of trials and tribulations when she carries a growing child inside of her.

She endures the morning sickness, back pains, swollen ankles and food cravings, and it all culminates in what? She spends hours in a hospital in pain, screaming as she goes through the process of giving birth.

Is she going to feel a unique bond with the little child she brought into the world? Probably.

The Clayton County Board of Health is kicking off August by highlighting that special little bit of mommy-baby time known as breastfeeding. World Breastfeeding Week began Thursday with a series of classes designed to educate mothers about nursing their children.

“It’s designed to promote the natural health benefits of breastfeeding and to help dispel some of the myths that people have about it,” said health department spokesman Joel Hall. “Particularly in the African-American community, there are a lot of myths about breastfeeding and as a result, the number of African-American who breastfeed their children is lower than other groups.

“Since Clayton County is predominantly African-American, that’s one of the reasons why we’re supporting this,” he continued.

The health department will host a one-hour “Breastfeeding 101” class today at 8:30 a.m. at the Clayton County Board of Health Building, 1117 Battle Creek Road in Jonesboro. The class will be held again Tuesday, at the same time and place. Staff will wear T-shirts to thank mothers for breastfeeding their children Monday and an “It’s Only Natural” breastfeeding education session will be held Wednesday from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. at the board of health building.

Mothers who breastfeed their children often swear by it and will fight for their right to do it anywhere they want. Two years ago, hundreds of young mothers gathered on the lawn of Forest Park City Hall and began breastfeeding their children to protest a public decency ordinance. The ordinance was designed to deter adult nudity but also made it illegal to breastfeed a child over 2 in public.

The mothers — who came to be known as “lactivists” — asserted it was their right to decide when to stop breastfeeding. They argued it created a special bond between them and their children.

“That’s what boobs are made for,” said one mother, Leah Ashe, during the May 23, 2011, protest. “They are not made to be looked at, or played with. They’re made to feed babies.”

The “lactivists” won their fight and the age limit was quickly dropped.

Breastfeeding is on the rise in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its 2012 breastfeeding report card shows 76.9 percent of mothers breastfed their children immediately after birth in 2009, the most recent for which data is available. That was a 2.3 percentage point increase from 2008.

The data also shows the number of mothers breastfeeding their children at 6 months increased from 44.3 percent to 47.2 percent over the same time period. Breastfeeding at the age of 1 increased from 23.8 percent to 25.5 percent.

Georgia lagged behind the nation in every age category, according to the report. At birth, 70.9 percent of Georgia mothers breastfed their children. At 6 months, the number dropped to 40.8 percent, and it plummeted again to 17.6 percent at age 1.

Breastfeeding offers plenty of health benefits for babies and their mothers, but common myths, such as formula being healthier and cheaper than breast milk, deter some people from doing it, said Hall. Among the benefits, he said, are a closer bond between mother and child, and better immune systems for the children.

“Typically, babies who breastfeed get sick less often and are less likely to have ear infections, diarrhea and stomach problems,” said Hall. “Babies that don’t breastfeed have a higher risk of developing asthma, diabetes and childhood obesity.”

Hall said new mothers eager to return to a pre-pregnancy weight can burn up to 600 calories a day by breastfeeding.

The board of health’s World Breastfeeding Week programs are sponsored by the Loving Support Breastfeeding Program, Making Our Mothers Successful and Parents as Teachers.