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Breast Feeding Benefits Outweigh the Risk

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RALEIGH — Wednesday's episode of "Chicago Hope" upset many advocates of breast feeding. In the episode, a breast-fed baby died from dehydration. Experts say the scenario is possible, but extremely rare.

The program dramatized an extreme situation. In reality, medical experts say, the situation depicted should never happen, and it should not cloud the benefits of breast feeding.

Little Eric Creech is only two days old, but he is already drinking breast milk. Mom would not have it any other way.

"I wanted to do it because I really feel that it's the healthiest way," new mother Mary Creech said. "The nutrients, the colostrom, there's a lot of stuff in it that I think they really need."

Medical experts say Creech is giving her baby the best, despite what happened on "Chicago Hope."

"The Ross child died of heart failure, secondary to dehydration, which would seem to indicate starvation," a doctor on the show said.

In the episode, a breast-fed baby died of malnutrition. Experts say that in real life, malnutrition is extremely rare.

"It's certainly the safest form of feeding out there," Dr. Tom Young said.

From strengthening babies' immune systems, to enhancing their development, Young says the benefits of breast feeding far outweigh the risks. He also said that it is very easy to tell if there is a problem.

"It's really simple. You look at things like the number of wet diapers, the number of stools the baby is producing, the way the skin looks, what the baby's weight has done over several days of age," Young said. "It's real easy to determine whether the baby's getting enough to eat."

Mary Tully is a lactation counselor who visits new mothers at Wake Medical. She says sometimes a mother will not have enough milk, or the baby will have trouble latching on. In those cases, donor milk or formula is recommended. However, she says that "most mothers do make enough milk and most babies can latch on appropriately."

There are several signs that show if the baby is getting enough to eat. The parent should be able to hear sucking and swallowing noises. Babies generally want to eat as many as 10-to-12 times a day. One other sign is if there are fewer than six wet diapers a day, there may be a problem, and parents need to call their doctor.

Babies who do breast-feed, like Eric Creech, get an added benefit of eating well -- a restful sleep.

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Laurie Clowers, Reporter
John Cox, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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