County health department recognizes Franklin Park resident for her work

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The choice of whether to breast-feed has more implications than many people know, Dr. Sylvia S. Choi of Franklin Park says.

The risks associated with formula feeding include increased occurrence of ear infections, obesity, diabetes, celiac disease and hypertension later in life, said Choi, an associate professor of pediatrics with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Choi, 44, was recognized last month by the Allegheny County Health Department for her work to promote the advantages of breast-feeding to medical students and new mothers, in addition to her support of mothers who breast-feed their babies.

She was awarded a Certificate of Achievement by the health department during a Women, Infants & Children Program staff meeting on Sept. 11.

Dr. Brian W. Donnelly, a pediatrician at Pediatric Alliance, North Hills Division, nominated Choi for the award.

“I admire her dedication,” said Donnelly, 53, of Gibsonia, who also serves as president of the county health department's Breast-feeding Coalition.

A graduate of the Boston University School of Medicine, Choi has been practicing pediatrics for 19 years. She said she was surprised to hear she had won the award.

“We're very fortunate here in Pittsburgh to have so many experts in the area of breast-feeding. I look up to many of them,” she said.

Kathy South is a registered dietitian and the breast-feeding coordinator for the local Women, Infants & Children Program, administered by the county health department.

“Breast-feeding is the feeding method of choice for most infants' and mothers' health,” she said.

The Atlanta-based International Formula Council, an association of manufacturers and marketers of formulated nutrition products, such as infant formulas, challenges the idea the choosing formula to feed babies can result in disease.

“The International Formula Council supports breast-feeding and agrees it offers specific child and maternal benefits. However, statements that breast-feeding prevents disease or that formula feeding increases the risk of disease are misleading and lack support; the scientific data in many cases are inconclusive,” Mardi Mountford, the executive vice president of the IFC, said in a written statement.

“Claims regarding potential detrimental health effects due to the absence of breast milk (and, by implication, the use of infant formula) are likely to cause unjustified worry among mothers who may formula-feed their infants.”

Choi refers to breast milk as “designer formula.”

“Breast milk is specifically tailored to match the particular needs of each individual child,” she said.

Choi's goal is to break down the barriers that prevent new mothers from breast-feeding their babies.

“Society is not very supportive of breast-feeding. We don't make it feasible for moms to breast-feed during the first year of an infant's life,” said Choi, citing the lack of public places suitable for mothers to breast-feed babies and employers who do not provide time or space for new mothers to pump their milk. “I feel very passionate that, as a society, we can eventually change that.”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer with Trib Total Media.

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