Breastfeeding rewards and challenges


Support abounds on north coast

By Sue Cody

 Breastfeeding is the “gold standard” for infant nutrition, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And nearly three out of four Clatsop County moms choose to breastfeed, a recent survey found.

A North Coast Infant Feeding Survey showed 71 percent of women chose to breastfeed exclusively, while 21 percent planned to combine breastmilk and formula. The survey was conducted last year by Clatsop County Health and Human Services.

Why breastfeed?

Michelle BisekBreastfeeding is about more than nutrition, says Astoria mom Michelle Bisek.

“The health benefits are most important,” says Bisek, who is breastfeeding her second child.

“Also, the connection with Evelyn, who just turned 3, is vitally important. She feels more secure with me. It is a special bonding that we have. Breastfeeding isn’t just nutrition for her.”

Breastfeeding has physical and emotional benefits for mom and baby. The CDC reports breastfeeding reduces a child’s risk for:

  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Ear and respiratory infections
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Gastrointestinal infections (diarrhea/vomiting)

Benefits to mothers include:

  • Bonding
  • Less bleeding and more rapid uterine recovery
  • Lower menstrual blood loss
  • Delayed menstruation for women who breastfeed fulltime, which helps space out pregnancies
  • Faster return to pre-pregnancy weight
  • Lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months followed by continuation of breastfeeding for at least one year once solid foods are introduced. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for two years.

Sharing experiences and support

Photos often depict mothers with deeply satisfied faces while their babies calmly breastfeed. There are those moments, but many nursing mothers face challenges, too. Some babies have difficulty latching onto the breast or fail to gain weight. The milk supply may be low, or the mother may experience pain.

Dr. Safina Koreishi, medical director of the Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization (CCO) can speak to that from experience.

“My journey of breastfeeding my now 9-month-old twins was not what I had imagined,” Dr. Koreishi says. “Breastfeeding is difficult and emotional. It requires a lot of time and patience. I imagined breastfeeding them both together, easily. I did not imagine having difficulty with them latching, with my milk supply. I did not imagine having to do ‘triple feeds’ which means breastfeeding, then supplementing with pumped milk, then pumping. It was exhausting doing this for two babies for months. I never wanted to quit, but often felt like I was failing.”

She is far from alone. Nursing moms have many local resources to help them overcome such difficulties. Lactation consultants are based at Columbia Memorial Hospital (CMH), WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and Providence Seaside Hospital.

Kelsey Betts is a certified lactation consultant at CMH. She counsels women who have trouble breastfeeding for a variety of reasons, including gestational diabetes or breast augmentation. Other common difficulties include low milk supply, trouble latching, or a baby’s cleft palate or tongue tie.

“We can help with nipple pain if it is your first or fifth baby,” Betts says.

At CMH, lactation services are available to anyone, regardless of where they gave birth.

Pediatricians see the babies at 2, 4 and 6 months, Betts says, while the lactation consultant is available between visits.

In addition, local La Leche League members, doulas, midwifes and nurses offer emotional and social support.

Before her first child was born, Bisek went to La Leche League meeting for support. “I am here, I want to learn, this is I want to make sure I am doing this right,” she says.

North Coast La Leche League leader Kestrel Gates says, “What some people don’t realize is La Leche League is support for breastfeeding moms whether they have problems or not.” Meetings are held the first Tuesday of each month at Blue Scorcher Bakery Café in Astoria.

“Our meetings serve as a way for moms to meet each other, to get connected, make friends and see other moms who are further along in their breastfeeding relationships,” Gates says. “We provide support around breastfeeding challenges and we also connect them with information to answer their questions.

“Many moms are working with lactation consultants. La Leche League is not in place of lactation consultant. It’s really about empowering moms.”

Partners, nurses and female family members also exert a positive influence, according to the North Coast Survey.

“Having a supportive partner can make or break a breastfeeding relationship,” Gates says. To educate women around the birth of a child, she has written a postpartum planning workbook, “Building Your Nest.” It is available at

Mothers share information and even milk with other mothers.

“Having friends who had difficulties breastfeeding, made me aware that some mothers need breastmilk,” says Bisek.

While she was working, she pumped milk and froze it to use while she was gone. Realizing there was extra, she signed up and donated almost 50 ounces to the Northwest Mothers Milk Bank. The milk is distributed to newborns in need. CMH and Providence Seaside Hospital both have drop off sites for the Milk Bank.

Dr. Koreishi says, “Breastfeeding and pumping while working full-time is challenging, but we do it! It is important to work toward normalizing and promoting breastfeeding and pumping for working mothers. It has been quite a journey, but it is amazing to watch my babies grow, knowing that I am helping to nurture them with my milk as well as my love.”