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Mother’s milk remains key to child’s future health

Mother’s milk remains key to child’s future health

It is a well-known fact Mississippians struggle with all manner of health problems. New and long-standing efforts at the University of Mississippi Medical Center are going back to the basics and confronting the problems with one of the best weapons we have - breast milk.

"The whole newborn division is trying to promote, educate and support mothers to initiate breast feeding and continue at least up to six months," said Dr. Norma Ojeda, associate professor in neonatology. "If they can reach up to 12 months, even better."

Ojeda's latest research adds to the mounting medical evidence that the best thing for a baby is mother's milk.

In a state with the highest rate of low birth weight and premature babies, the benefits of breastfeeding are crucial to a newborn's future development, said Ojeda. She has been looking at events that occur before and after birth that impact a child's long-term development.

"My focus was to study all the mechanisms associated with low birth weight and premature babies and all the morbidities and mortalities associated with these newborns," said Ojeda. "What are the outcomes of low birth weight on the child's later health, nutritional health or even behavioral health?"
Ojeda began with an experimental model where she induced low birth weights in newborn rats by reducing the blood flow to the animal fetuses, effectively limiting the nutrients they received in the womb and ensuring they were born smaller. "This is mimicking what happens with women who have preeclampsia or high blood pressure during pregnancy who then deliver smaller babies," explained Ojeda.

What she found read like a list of the state's most pressing health issues.

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People of the U: Dr. Nina Washington

People of the U: Dr. Nina Washington

Long before she graduated with a medical degree from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Dr. Nina Washington already was familiar with the hallways of the Medical Center. 

Growing up with lupus meant Washington was a regular fixture at Batson Children's Hospital to see Dr. Linda Ray, a pediatric rheumatologist. Yet when she entered medical school, she was convinced she wanted to be an obstetrician/gynecologist. 

"That didn't work out so well," she said. "But then I fell in love with pediatrics. The more I learned about my own personal disease, the more the field of rheumatology became more interesting to me. I felt because of the personal experience I had, I would be able to put myself in my patient's position. 

"I guess it's pretty divine how I got involved." 

After UMMC, Washington finished her pediatric residency at the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital and then a fellowship at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital of Stanford University. And in August, 2013, she returned home to become the second pediatric rheumatologist on UMMC's staff - working alongside her former physician, Ray. 

Washington said she returned because she knew she could serve a need in Mississippi, one that many other states also are facing. 

"The need is everywhere," she said. "I think the need hasn't been serviced as well simply because of the lack of access to a trained pediatric rheumatologist." 

The specialty of her field also means it's not one easily recognized to the average resident, but families with children who have these specific issues understand all too well the importance. 

"We take care of children with arthritis, with connective tissue diseases such as lupus. We take care of children who have inflammation of their blood vessels like vasculitis, or those who have inflammation in their eyes - uveitis," said Washington. "I would say we're a sub-speciality pediatrician, because the illnesses we tend to treat involve the whole body." 

A native of Jackson, Washington said it's a privilege to work at the hospital where she received help.

"I often try to remind myself when the hours are getting long and the consults start piling in, it's a privilege to be able to have received the training that I have and the knowledge that I've learned about this field and to be able to use that to make my patients' lives better," she said. "It's so rewarding when you have a child who comes in and they're limping. And then three months later, they're not limping any more. It's an honor, I would say."

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Neuroepidemiologist joins Medical Center faculty

The Medical Center is proud to announce the following addition to its faculty and leadership staff:


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Neuroepidemiologist joins Medical Center faculty
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