To the dismay of many local new moms, Parkridge East has closed its lactation center and discontinued a free weekly support group for breast-feeding mothers.
The changes are in response to financial challenges at the hospital system, officials said.
"I don't understand how they could cut this. This will affect mothers," said Alicia Holbrook, who gave birth to her third child four months ago at Parkridge East.
She said she wouldn't have been able to breast-feed her babies if it wasn't for the help of the lactation center counselors.
"I know so many moms who quit [trying to breast-feed] after two days, before their milk even comes in, because they're so discouraged," Holbrook said.
Also last week, 28 Parkridge employees - including four bedside nurses - were laid off as the hospital made cuts in its budget, officials said.
Lactation services may be reinstated at Parkridge, officials said.
"We are currently investigating how we will continue to provide lactation services on both an inpatient and outpatient basis going forward," said Lisa Wallace, associate chief nursing officer, in an e-mailed statement.
Erlanger's downtown Baroness campus and Erlanger East still offer lactation counseling services, staffed by nine lactation counselors.
Before the Parkridge center closed last Tuesday, lactation counseling was a free part of the delivery package at Parkridge. Counselors checked in daily with all new moms in the hospital who planned to breast feed, from those who had no trouble to those who needed coaching, former staff said. Mothers could pay for one-on-one sessions at the lactation center after they were discharged.
Easier for baby to digest than formula.
Fosters bonding between mother and baby.
More affordable than formula.
Breast milk has disease-fighting antibodies and has growth factors to aid in development of baby's organs.
Helps mother's uterus return to pre-pregnancy size; delays the return of menstruation to keep iron in the body; reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancers.
Source: National Women's Health Information Center
A free weekly support group brought together breast-feeding moms and gave them the opportunity to weigh their babies regularly and record their growth.
Among the recent Parkridge layoffs was Shari Hicks, the primary lactation consultant at the now-closed center. On her Facebook page, she has received an outpouring of "outrage and support" from moms she has counseled about lactation through the center, she said.
The center served between 500 and 800 women each year, Hicks said.
"It was really a needed resource," she said. "I always tell people, 'There's no manual that the baby read.' There's a definite learning curve for mom and baby."
Hicks said she has launched her own in-home lactation counseling business, called The Baby Nurse, through which she'll offer the same counseling services she provided at Parkridge. She also hopes to restart the local weekly support group for breast-feeding moms.
Breast milk has essential nutrients and immune-system boosting properties that help make breast-fed children more resistant to infections, compared to formula-fed children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The physical contact also helps establish a bond between mother and baby, the group said.
LeeAnne Viall said she used the lactation center for a year after she initially struggled to nurse her daughter, born in 2004. With the center's help, she went on to nurse her daughter Maggie for two years, she said in an e-mail interview.
"It's very disappointing that a hospital known primarily for its labor and delivery services would chose to eliminate something like the lactation center," she said. "I realize times are tough all around, but I think the hospital made a poor choice in putting profits over patients and babies' health."
Contact staff writer Emily Bregel at ebregel@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6467.