Infant graduates from LIJ Forest Hills NICU with honors in breastfeeding

Lorraine Munoz, lactation coordinator at LIJ Forest Hills, hands Mason Wheeler his NICU diploma with special honors in breastfeeding as his parents Benjamin and Gabrielle Wheeler, and Dr. Orlando Santandreu and Dr. Jennifer Kurtz help him celebrate.

Long Island Jewish Forest Hills’ award-winning breastfeeding program held a graduation ceremony to honor 1-month-old Mason Wheeler, who spent the early part of July in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Dressed in a baby-blue cap and gown and accompanied by his proud parents, Benjamin and Gabrielle Wheeler, of Astoria, Queens, Mason received a diploma with special honors in breastfeeding. The achievement was hard-earned because both mother and son had a difficult birth.

Gabrielle, who wanted to deliver naturally, spent 39 hours in labor. Due to complications with asthma, she underwent a C-section instead. Mason wound up in the NICU for six days with fluid in his lungs and rapid breathing.

Because of Gabrielle’s surgery, it was difficult for her to hold and visit Mason until the next day. The nurses provided her with a breast pump and encouraged the first-time mom to express milk for him. At first, all she could get were drops. The NICU nurses attempted to feed Mason but he kept spitting up.

Gabrielle was determined to breastfeed. She learned that breast milk was best for her son at a prenatal class offered at LIJ Forest Hills and from her own research.

“Breastfeeding is not a new option, it is a forgotten option and we here at LIJ Forest Hills are working to change that by educating the community on its benefits,” said Orlando Santandreu, MD, vice chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the hospital.

When the new mom went to the NICU, she was nervous that breastfeeding wouldn’t work. With the help of the NICU staff, especially Lorraine Munoz, lactation coordinator at the hospital, Mason was able to latch and breastfeed.

"There are so many benefits to breastfeeding. Breast milk contains numerous antibodies and immunoglobins, which helps prevent infections in infants. Breastfed babies are less likely to have ear infections, respiratory illness, and digestive issues. For mothers, breast feeding may reduce their risk of acquiring diabetes,” said Jennifer Kurtz, DO, chief of neonatology at LIJ Forest Hills. “Breast milk is convenient, and cost effective. And most importantly, it's an amazing way for mothers and babies to bond." 

Now weighing in at a hearty 11 pounds, Mason is a prime example of why LIJ Forest Hills was recently named a Baby Friendly hospital – a global designation through UNICEF and the World Health Organization – for their dedication to improving breast feeding rates while encouraging mother-infant bonding. There are only 22 hospitals in New York State that have earned the Baby Friendly distinction.

“Mason is doing great,” said Gabrielle, who was all smiles during the August 4 graduation ceremony. “Most babies lose weight in the beginning but he has gained weight and I think that’s because of the breast milk.”

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About Long Island Jewish Forest Hills
Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, a 252-bed community hospital located in an ethnically diverse residential neighborhood in northern Queens, provides high-quality, compassionate healthcare with sensitivity and respect for the cultural needs of patients and their families. The hospital’s emergency department treats about 54,000 patients a year. LIJ Forest Hills offers general surgery, bloodless medicine and surgery, bariatric surgery, orthopaedics, gynecology, advanced gastroenterology services, emergency care, lung health screening, on-site and through a vast array of affiliated medical staff. The hospital’s Women's New Life Center features labor-delivery-recovery suites for new moms and their families. The hospital’s Multispecialty Center in Rego Park offers affordable, high-quality outpatient healthcare. 

Diane O’Donnell
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