St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Bond aid

Denice Berg helps new mothers experience a closer bond with their newborns with education in proper breast-feeding techniques.

SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published October 3, 2003

BRANDON - Suite 228 of the Oakfield Medical Plaza is filled with the happy squeaks and hungry cries of babies, some newly born and others nearing their first birthdays.

Blankets, squishy toys and pacifiers cover the floor, where a dozen or so mothers play with their babies and swap stories. They talk about restless nights, postpartum exercise and the latest bottles designed for colicky newborns.

At the center of all this activity is Denice Berg. She makes her way around the circle, stopping to spend a few minutes with each mother attending the weekly support group sponsored by Brandon Regional Hospital.

Is the baby sleeping? How is your breast pump working? Wow, he looks like he's put on some weight in the past two weeks! If she's still not latching on, come see me in my office and we'll work through it.

Married with two college-age children, Berg is long past the days of comforting her teething babies and waking up for their late-night feedings.

But as a board-certified lactation consultant at Brandon Regional, where some 3,000 babies were born last year, Berg's days are devoted to helping mothers connect with their tiny creations.

She considers herself an educator and approaches her work as a ministry of sorts.

She helps women bond with their babies at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. Hours and even weeks after giving birth, mothers are at once elated, frightened, uncertain and eager.

"You will be 89 years old and not remember what you ate for breakfast," Berg said, "but you'll remember that day, that moment your child was born."

Moms who breast-feed also remember the first time their baby latches on and eats.

But as natural as the act is, it doesn't always happen easily. Some of Berg's charges have 4-week-old babies that still struggle.

Berg doesn't give up, and she encourages the mothers not to give up, "because it's so worth it."

* * *

Amanda Bodie comes from a family of women who never breast-fed their babies. So when her son, Nathan, was born premature, Bodie knew she would need help feeding him.

Five weeks later, Nathan is eating well. Bodie credits his progress and her own comfort in breast-feeding to telephone conversations and one-on-one meetings with Berg.

"Denice is my saving angel," said Bodie, who lives in Brandon. "I don't know what I'd have done without her."

Other mothers speak of Berg with the same reverence, having called or visited her office for advice.

"If there's anyone who has made an impact on women's lives in this community, it's Denice," said Cindi Benton, who teaches childbirth classes for Brandon Regional. "She empowers them and gives them confidence."

Berg, a nurse for 28 years, has spent all but one year of her tenure tending to mothers and babies.

Her expressive ocean-blue eyes still pop with passion for the work.

Before moving to the Brandon area with her family in 1985, she worked at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, where she was born and raised.

She started working at Brandon Regional Hospital in 1987, at first working only Sundays. The hours grew longer as her children, Emilia and Matthew, got older; she still works part time, two 12-hour shifts a week.

The schedule leaves her time for church, fishing and decorating the new Seffner home she and husband, Monty, have lived in since December. It also ensures she doesn't get burnt out by what can be an emotionally draining job.

"The only way I can feel good about my job is to treat all of the mothers in a loving, caring way, like I would a sister," Berg said. "But that takes a lot out of you, which is part of why I only do it twice a week."

She revels in special moments, like when a mother gives her a grateful hug before leaving with her new baby.

The icing on the cake, Berg says, is when a mother returns to Brandon Regional for the birth of a second or third child and asks, "Is Denise here today?"

- Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 661-2443 or svansickler@sptimes.com

Denice Berg

AGE: 48.

FAMILY: Married for 28 years to Monty, her high school sweetheart; daughter Emilia, 19, attends USF; son Matthew, 23, is studying chemical engineering at UF.

TITLES GALORE: Berg has been called everything from "lactationist" and "lactating educator" to "boob nurse."

BAIT AND TACKLE: Berg is passionate about fishing - and good at it too. Her biggest catch? A 21-inch Wahoo in the Florida Keys. "No one starves when I fish."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.