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EDITOR’S NOTE: In cultures where virtually all women b

April 13, 1991

EDITOR’S NOTE: In cultures where virtually all women breast-feed, the practice passes from mother to mother and mother to daughter. But in the United States, many mothers who choose to breast-feed - WIC and non-WIC alike - often lack the help they need to get started and keep going. Here are three mothers’ stories.

Undated (AP) _ By LISA LEVITT RYCKMAN AP National Writer

Something was wrong with Megan Liberty.

She was 6 weeks old and losing weight. Nursing her was such a painful ordeal that Joann Natoli Liberty cringed every time she heard Megan cry.

Liberty’s pediatrician in Brooklyn, N.Y., paid little attention when she told him she believed Megan wasn’t nursing correctly. She would need to supplement with formula to allow so she could ″rest″ and replenish her milk, the doctor said. She should nurse no more than every three hours, even if Megan cried, and for no more than nine minutes on each side. And she should follow every nursing with formula.

″You obviously don’t have enough milk,″ the doctor told Liberty.

She was devastated. And determined.

″This whole thing to me sounded so wrong. I had read enough to know that this was really ridiculous, that the idea you didn’t have enough milk was so far-fetched, so rare,″ Liberty said.

She contacted the lactation clinic at Beth Israel Hospital, where a lactation consultant watched her nurse and quickly diagnosed the problem. Megan was ″tongue-tied:″ her frenulum, the string on the underside of her tongue, was so short and tight that it made it difficult for her to latch on properly.

″She said, ‘You have plenty of milk. The problem is not with you.’ And I just sat down and cried,″ Liberty said. ″This is what I had felt all along.″

Liberty used a device that allowed Megan to receive supplemental breast milk or formula while she was nursing. She and her husband also did ″stretching exercises″ with Megan to loosen her frenulum.

Almost two years later, they are still nursing, and Liberty is more sure than ever that her persistence has paid off.

″I know that there’s such a closeness I feel with her, there’s such a peace when you sit down to nurse,″ she said. ″I don’t think you can get that anywhere else.″

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Patti Perret spent the last 15 of her 36 years carefully considering the kinds of food she put into her own body. That’s why the decision about what to feed her newborn son took less than a second.

″I didn’t want to put anything but mother’s milk into my baby,″ the New Orleans woman said. ″It was never a question. It came with the territory.″

But as Perret learned, doing what nature intended doesn’t necessarily come naturally. The first attempt to nurse Shannon minutes after birth was unsuccessful. Later, with the help of an experienced nurse, mom and baby figured out what to do, and continued breast-feeding happily for the next two years.

″If you don’t know anything about it, you can’t just put the baby to the breast,″ said Perret, who got much of her information from La Leche League’s book, ″The Womanly Art of Breast-feeding.″ ″It requires some mechanics to it.″

Like many moms who breast-feed exclusively, Perret weaned Shannon directly to a cup, and plans to do the same with Riley, born last May. Neither child has ever had a pacifier. Shannon had an occasional bottle of breast milk while Perret, a photographer, worked part time. Riley never has had one.

″When a baby wants something, nursing usually takes care of it,″ said Perret, who has fed her babies while shopping, sitting on stoops and dining out.

″It has always been something very easy for me to do. I feel l can camouflage it very well if I want to,″ she said. ″To us it’s a completely natural thing, so it’s a natural thing to other people.″

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Lynn Clifton thought the third time would be a charm. Three Cesarean sections, three boys, three attempts at nursing a baby.

The first two had ended after six weeks or so because of medical problems, but Clifton felt confident breast-feeding would go well with her third and last child, Christopher. He was healthy, and she was sure she knew what to do.

″I didn’t think I needed any specific help,″ the Las Vegas woman said. ″I thought this was going to work this time.″

Looking back, she believes the problems began in the hospital. The staff insisted she feed Christopher water bottles after each nursing. Her surgery made it difficult to position him comfortably. No nurse or lactation specialist came by to help her.

″I came home with bottles of water and my baby - and the complementary pack of formula they give you, a six pack of something,″ Clifton said.

In those early weeks, she enjoyed nursing Christopher, and made a little ritual out of rocking and singing to him at each feeding. A water bottle always followed, as the hospital staff had recommended. But when his first weigh-in showed Christopher had lost weight, his pediatrician suggested cutting out the bottles and breast-feeding exclusively for a day or two.

″At this point, Christopher was a very lazy nurser,″ Clifton said. ″The way the doctor put it was, ‘You’d much rather go up an elevator than use the stairs.’ The bottle is just easier. He’d nurse and then wait for that water bottle. He knew it was coming.″

Christopher continued to lose weight, and the doctor insisted Lynn supplement with formula. She breast-fed and bottle-fed for a while, but the bottle soon took over.

″I was very depressed. I cried. I wondered if it was the bottles, or me, or a combination,″ she said. ″I guess we’ll never know.″

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