Thousands of mothers, staff and participants from local Women, Infant and Children (WIC) centers hoisted signs, carried banners and pushed strollers during Breastfeeding Awareness Walks in the cities of Lynwood, Paramount, South Gate, Bell Gardens, Huntington Park and Cudahy to promote breastfeeding and its benefits. The marches were among many taking place throughout the country during August, which is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. They were conducted on Thursday.

“There are huge health and financial advantages to choosing breast-feeding over formula feeding,” Deborah Myers, chief of Nutrition and Breastfeeding Services at South Los Angeles Health Projects, said.

“In South L.A. and throughout the country, we’re terribly concerned right now about obesity. Many don’t realize that formula-feeding puts a baby at risk of becoming an overweight child and an obese adult. And this is just one of the many risks,” Myers said.

The organization says that formula-fed babies have a greater risk of ear infections, diarrhea, constipation, pneumonia and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) than breast-fed babies. Children who were formula-fed also have a greater risk of obesity, diabetes, asthma, allergies and cancer.

Compared to a mother’s breast milk, formula is missing many things babies need to be strong, healthy and smart, according to the WIC Supplemental Nutrition Program of the California Department of Health Services.

“Breast milk is a living substance, and many of its most important components simply cannot be duplicated in formula,” Myers said. In addition to its many nutrients, breast milk contains antibodies and anti-viral substances that protect a baby from illness.

“And what draws most mothers to breast-feeding is another kind of advantage,” Myers said, “the special bond they feel between themselves and their babies that is an integral part of nursing.”

Saving money is another important benefit of choosing breast-feeding, according to Heidi Kent, deputy director of South Los Angeles Health Projects. “Formula-feeding costs a lot of money. The dollars add up because babies need extra formula as they grow, and WIC doesn’t give participants all the formula the baby will need. But the real cost of formula is the cost to the baby’s health and the time parents spend away from work or at the doctor when the baby is sick,” Kent said.

Women in South Los Angeles can learn whether they are eligible for WIC by phoning (310) 661-3080.