What Are 'Belly Beads'? One State Is Using Them To Help Moms Breastfeed

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The first few days of motherhood are overwhelming. After going through labor or undergoing surgery and then meeting your little person for the first time, nurses and doctors will surround you in the hopes of helping you learn how to breastfeed your child. For some women, the most natural act of wanting to nourish your baby — and not being able to do so — can be traumatic. Which is why one state is using belly beads for breastfeeding while women are still in the hospital. And it seems to be working.

According Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 29 percent of new mothers are breastfeeding in Arkansas at 3 months. By 6 months old, only 10 percent of moms are, which is a huge drop off given that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the whole first year. Namely because there are reportedly some health benefits to breastmilk, such as preventing allergies or asthma.

And children who are fed exclusively breast milk in the first six months have lower instances of ear infection, respiratory problems, and diarrhea.

So new moms are not only encouraged to breastfeed, they are often made to feel like they're going to hurt their kid if they don't — which makes everything all the more stressful. So, to alleviate this stress and get the rates up in Arkansas, nurses are using "belly beads."

Don't worry, it's not like a belly chain. It's merely a keychain nurses wear on their badges with three different size beads on them. The smallest one is the size of a marble. That's how big an infant's stomach is for the first two days. By day three and four, the stomach is the size of a ping pong ball. Eventually, the stomach will grow to the size of a chicken egg.

The point? Those stomachs are tiny, so there is no reason for new, often anxious moms, to freak out about not being able to "fill up" their infant's belly. University of Arkansas Medical Services' Lactation consultant Lisa Fulgham, R.N. told a local NBC affiliate, "That shows them that the mother does not actually have to have a lot of milk right at that time to feed her baby. Many times is just takes a few drops every couple hours."

At UAMS, all of the nurses in the maternity ward strung their own belly beads and wear them on their nurses lanyards, but they're pretty common. You might see your doula or a nurse at your OB GYN with a few on their key chain. They're a super simple and really useful teaching tool. Fulgham hopes that Arkansas' rates of breastfeeding moms go up with more use of the beads.

It's hard to figure out exactly how much your infant is getting and in the first few days, a woman's body might not produce tons of milk. These beads can take the edge off, simply by helping moms understanding that an infant's stomach is small AF. So any best effort to feed it — it in any way — is going to do the trick.

Sometimes, it's the simplest things that make the most difference. In this case, just a few beads can change the name of the feeding game for new moms and their babies.