Valley Baptist continues to share benefits of breastfeeding

Courtesy: Valley Baptist Health Systems

HARLINGEN – With August serving as National Breastfeeding Month, Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen is working hard to continually provide education and support on the importance of breastfeeding for newborns and mothers of the community.

The efforts, which go along with Valley Baptist-Harlingen’s designation as a Mother-Friendly Worksite by the Department of State Health Services, are important pieces to providing comprehensive care to the mothers and newborns of south Texas, said Jennifer Bartnesky-Smith, Chief Strategy Officer for Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen.

“As a mom of two, I fully understand the importance of breastfeeding for the health of not only mom and baby, but for the entire family. Unfortunately, what we frequently experience at Valley Baptist-Harlingen is that new moms are sometimes apprehensive to breastfeed simply due to a lack of awareness,” she said. “Education and support are a critical first step in enabling a mother’s efforts to breastfeed. That is why Valley Baptist Health System strongly supports National Breastfeeding Month in our efforts to educate and promote this natural and critical process for mom and baby.”

Mary Garcia, director of Valley Baptist-Harlingen’s Family Maternal Unit, Gynecology, and Newborn Nursery, said there are many critical benefits to breastfeeding for mother and baby alike that can have long-lasting positive health impacts.

“Breastfeeding provides the best possible start for babies by providing proteins and immune factors they cannot get from another source. It helps prevent illness, and assists with development of the brain, GI system, and jaw,” she said. “Breastfeeding also benefits mother by lowering her risks for bleeding as well as certain diseases, including diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancers of the breast, ovaries, and uterus.”

Isaura Figueroa, clinical director of Labor & Delivery and Obstetrics Emergency Department at Valley Baptist-Harlingen, said education is important to helping new mothers understand the importance of breastfeeding both for themselves and their babies.

“Labor & Delivery offers free Lamaze and childbirth education classes with breastfeeding instructions provided by a certified Lamaze and childbirth educator to encourage breast feeding prior to admission,” she said.

Garcia said that the education process continues once mothers give birth, as Valley Baptist-Harlingen staff work with new mothers to encourage and promote breastfeeding.

“We share both verbal and written breastfeeding information with mothers and families, encouraging them to initiate breastfeeding as early as possible,” Garcia said. “Our staff has completed education for Baby Friendly Initiative and is trained to educate and assist mothers with breastfeeding. We also give mothers an ‘exclusively breastfeeding’ certificate to acknowledge their success with exclusive breastfeeding during their hospital stay.”
In addition to education, Figueroa said staff Valley Baptist-Harlingen promotes the importance of skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby, which can often help nurture breastfeeding instincts.

“The first 60 minutes of a baby’s life can maximize that bonding experience between mommy and baby – it’s called the ‘Golden Hour,’” she said. “We have also supported surrogacy parents in skin-to-skin, because it creates a special bond for the infant and new parents.”

Rita Goodarzi, director of Valley Baptist-Harlingen’s Level III Newborn Intensive Care Unit, said babies receiving care in her unit are also given the vital benefits of breastfeeding even though they cannot spend a significant time with their mothers at birth.

“In the NBICU we have a program for babies who cannot eat right away called breast milk swabbing, where we use the mother’s milk or donor milk if needed and swab it to the inside of the baby’s mouth,” Goodarzi said. “This allows an infant that is not strong enough to tolerate feedings, to still absorb the nutrients in the breast milk that protect the brain and gut, and bolster the immune system. We also provide donor milk for those babies whose mothers are unable to produce enough breast milk or the breast milk cannot be fed to the baby for whatever reason. In order to maintain exclusive breast milk feedings for our babies, we provide breast milk fortification that is made exclusively from breast milk rather than the fortification made from formula. It is very important for our sick babies to receive an exclusive breast milk diet to give them the best chance for growing and developing as they should.”

For more information on the monthly Lamaze and childbirth education classes offered by Valley Baptist-Harlingen, call (844) 741-7285 or visit

About Valley Baptist Health System

Valley Baptist Health System is an 866-bed faith-based regional health system located in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. It is focused on helping people achieve health for life through compassionate service inspired by faith. Valley Baptist extends many of its services beyond its facilities and into local communities, offering free screenings for the community, support groups and numerous educational opportunities. For more information, visit