Studies show that breast-feeding has numerous benefits for babies, and Sylvia Choi has a personal mission to encourage other doctors to get that information to those who will make a difference -- new mothers.
Dr. Choi is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; medical director of the Feeding and Swallowing Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC; and a member of The Paul C. Gaffney Diagnostic Referral Service at Children's.
For her advocacy work in educating and promoting breast-feeding, Dr. Choi this month received a certificate of achievement from the Allegheny County Health Department.
"While we may recognize the importance of breast-feeding, I don't think we necessarily recognize the importance of education and knowledge to get that information out there," Dr. Choi said.
When Dr. Choi sees patients, the parents have already decided whether to bottle- or breast-feed, so she sees it as her role to educate the doctors she is helping to train.
"I say to our trainees, 'What might have we done as preventive means?' and if no one brings it up, I'll say, 'What about breast-feeding the child?' That gets them at least thinking about the benefits of breast-feeding," she said.
Dr. Choi, 44, said that when she graduated from medical school in 1994, there wasn't a lot of education for doctors about breast-feeding.
"I felt like I had a lot of really good skills to help the sickest, but maybe I was not so good at the normal things, like helping someone with breast-feeding," she said.
When Dr. Choi's sister had a baby and struggled with breast-feeding, it was an eye-opening experience for her.
"It was my own godchild and I had to learn how to help.
I realized we needed more knowledge and resources for the nuts and bolts of our practices," she said.
Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said the county has been honoring breast-feeding advocates since 2004.
"The county recognizes and honors the role breast-feeding plays in a healthier society. Breast-feeding has wonderful implications for children and we love to encourage mothers to choose this route," she said.
Those who are honored are nominated for recognition, Dr. Hacker said.
"We want to keep it on the radar screen of both the public and expecting mothers. It is a choice we want all new mothers to consider," she said.
Dr. Choi was humbled by her honor.
"I don't deserve this award. We have some real giants in Pittsburgh in the field of breast-feeding, plus an amazing resource in the Breast Feeding Center of Pittsburgh.
There are huge pioneers in our field and they are truly my mentors," she said.
Dr. Choi said she views her work in educating young doctors as one step in increasing awareness about breast-feeding and its benefits.
"If I can help the trainees know, then I can make a huge difference through the ripple effect and we can make a difference," she said.
"Babies were born to breast-feed. We had to forget the idea that somehow man can create what evolution has taken years and years to create."
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.