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Flawed Formula

"Got milk? Sutter hasn't." So read the signs of the 100-strong crowd of infant-toting mamas as they protested Sutter Maternity and Surgery Center's decision to close its lactation center May 30 for financial reasons--a formula that moms, physicians and county staff say is flawed. Without the center, they say, more newborns will be formula-fed, leading to increased health risks and costs for everyone--including the hospital itself.

Noting that babies not gaining weight and breast infections are typical hurdles that cause new mothers to stop breast-feeding, the center's lactation consultant Lili Beggs said, "Breast-feeding is a health prevention measure that needs to be supported and which ultimately lowers costs, because it results in less return visits to the doctor."

"The nice thing was you didn't have to deliver a baby there to make use of the services," said Kaitilin Johnston. "The services aren't free, but it's affordable to see a consultant, rent a pump and attend the support group."

Others said that given the high cost of living in Santa Cruz, they'd had to return to work, making continued breast-feeding of their babies impossible without the help of Beggs, the support group and a rented pump.

And Kathryn Samson recalled her fear when newborn Maya would not take her milk. "Lili and the lactation center made me a better, confident mom. It's tragic that Sutter can't see that this is a money generator--I was planning to have my second baby here, but now I'm thinking maybe I should go to Dominican instead."

But Nursing Mothers Council and La Leche League member Ann Wasserman worried, "If Sutter no longer has a lactation center, Dominican might not, too."

Sutter physicians Dr. Marsha Muir and Dr. Janna Doherty said Beggs is invaluable. "Breast-feeding is not as easy as people think. Between 40 and 50 percent of moms need some help," Doherty said.

With 60-80 women giving birth at Sutter every month, and the lactation center seeing 10 new moms a week, birth duala Ellen Miller saw all the signs of huge consumer demand.

"So, what's the next step and what do we need?" she asked. "If it's simply money and funds, with all this community support, maybe the moms should take it into their own hands, and create a visible center that everyone knows about before birth with pre-and post -natal support. This is a seed bursting with potency."

And Katie Lebaron of the county's perinatal services program dug into the financial picture a little deeper, saying health-care services nationwide would save $2 billion--if all women in the U.S. breast-fed.

"Formula-fed babies have a bigger risk of respiratory infections, allergies, diarrhea and death from sudden infant death syndrome," Lebaron said. "As adults, they are more likely to develop lymphomas, diabetes and obesity. And breast-feeding moms raise their infants' IQs, while reducing their own risks of developing breast cancer."

She noted that formula-fed babies costs parents $1,000-$2,000 a year in formula, translate into lost days at work for parents, since they are at greater risk for illness, and cost insurance companies $1,400 more a year in claims than their breast-fed peers.

But despite this mounting evidence, insurance companies offer little reimbursement to hospitals that offer lactation. And while the county may reimburse one consultation with a lactation expert and rental of a breast pump, most women need ongoing support.

All of which is why Sutter wants to convert the center into a contract service, says the hospital's perinatal director Jackie Sterling. "Sutter is a not-for-profit organization that has a fiscal responsibility to stay viable. That's our goal, so there will be some transition time."

But though Sutter might like Beggs to take over the business, she says, "I'm a nurse, not a business woman."

Call 477.2229 for lactation center updates.

Spirit of St. Louis

Ever since its residents drummed up the cash to pay for Charles Lindbergh's historic 1927 transatlantic flight, St. Louis has been linked, at least in the public imagination, to positive flights of fancy.

That image was jeopardized last week when nine members of the Flying Rutabagas--a bike-powered circus that aims to ride from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., to bring a message of sustainable transportation and alternatives to the Midwest cornbelt--were jailed in the landlocked city for "riding a bike without a license," even as the mayor proclaimed it Bike to Work Day.

Santa Cruz residents Jeff Kaplan and Tom Shaver, responsible for the Flying Rutabaga's Man-Santo the Genetically Modifying Magician, report that jail time was "just fine," since they used it to teach juggling workshops with balogna sandwiches, give a capella concerts to other inmates and practice their skits.

Writes Kaplan in a recent email, "I'm in good spirits and Tom is dressed like a tiger. Our bicycle charges got dropped yesterday. Apparently we were arrested on a law that was repealed two years ago. The paper quotes a city councilmember as saying the whole thing was due to a misunderstanding!"

He and other Rutabagas suspect that their Caravan Across the Cornbelt did not sit well with local police, since it coincided with a demonstration against the World Agricultural Forum, which was meeting in the city that week. And though the police did release all the troupe's road bikes and trailers, eccentric velocipedes, gigantic tricycles and 7-foot-tall bikes, Kaplan accuses them of "urinating on people books, drawing a mustache on the picture of woman's female partner, stealing all journals and personal papers, and slashing sleeping bags and bike pumps."

The good news?

"We're all out of jail and doing fine, just a little tense. We're trying to get back on the road, but our show schedule has been disrupted by the incarceration ... so we are reweaving it."

From Our Garden

Kim Eabry, executive director of the Homeless Garden Project, says that though the Women's Organic Flower Enterprise is losing its workshop building and perennial garden this summer, the project's retail store will remain at 101 Washington for at least another five years, and is even getting a new sign to display its new name, From Our Garden.

"Because that nicely sums up what we do and what we have in our store," she says. And though the HGP has talked about renaming itself, for now it's hanging onto its original title, at least until it moves its farm site from Natural Bridges to the Pogonip, a transition that is slated to happen sooner rather than later, Eabry says, though she's still not exactly sure when.

"A group of folks want to put together a cooperative housing site within two years at the Shaffer Road site, and Ron Swenson, who's really into environmental projects and has helped us tremendously, doesn't want to be the one to kick us out, so the City Council, which is very supportive of us, has asked up to put together a plan, so we can move forward."

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the May 28-June 4, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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