This is World Breastfeeding Week

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By Diana Leathers

The 2013 World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated Aug. 1-7 with health officials working to promote the importance of supporting breastfeeding families. This message extends to fathers, family members, friends, employers and other key individuals who can play a role in the effort to build a supportive network for breastfeeding mothers.

The 2013 World Breastfeeding Theme, “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers,” was selected as a way to help more women choose breastfeeding and continue to exclusively breastfeed for the clinically recommended guideline of six months.

“Breastfeeding is an opportunity for mom and baby to bond, connect, and relax,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Stephanie Mayfield. “In addition to physical health benefits, we encourage mothers to breastfeed because of its helpful and healing benefits for families. We need support from relatives, employers and the community to make sure mothers are achieving their breastfeeding goals.”

Breastfeeding is widely regarded as the healthiest choice for infants and the practice is supported by public health professionals, health care providers and advocates around the world. Many women, however, struggle to meet the standards recommended for optimum breastfeeding. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. After that, solid foods are added to the baby’s feeding schedule, but continued breastfeeding is recommended for at least 12 months.

“Even the most committed mothers can struggle to successfully breastfeed when they don’t have the kind of support system they need at home, at the workplace and in the community,” said Fran Hawkins, director of the Kentucky Women, Infants and Children Program. “If we want to send the message that breastfeeding is important and improve our breastfeeding rates, we need to support mothers who choose to breastfeed.”

Currently, Kentucky’s breastfeeding rates are 59.4 percent, comparatively lower than other states. DPH is engaged in a number of activities aimed at increasing the state’s breastfeeding rates and improving maternal and child health standards.

In 2011, Kentucky WIC and the University of Louisville Hospital Center for Women and Infants began working together to help more families utilize Kangaroo Care – the practice of using skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth – to promote breastfeeding rates. Kangaroo Care support is provided in birthing hospitals around the state.

In addition, WIC participates in a Breastfeeding Peer Counseling Program operated through the local health departments. A Breastfeeding Peer Counselor is a current or former WIC participant with personal breastfeeding experience.

The breastfeeding peer counselor program provides one-on-one counseling, information and round-the-clock guidance for mothers new to breastfeeding. The United States Department of Agriculture funds the program through a federal grant. It’s available to participants of the WIC Program in agencies with the peer counselor program.

DPH also works to promote breastfeeding through various educational channels, providing support to local health departments, tracking statewide breastfeeding rates, distributing regular breastfeeding educational materials and messaging, and encouraging breastfeeding to mothers enrolled in various public health supported programs and services.

DPH has participated in programs, such as the Business Case for Breastfeeding, that have assisted businesses with the implementation of breastfeeding-friendly policies.

“Even with support at home, continuing breastfeeding after returning to work is a tremendous challenge,” said Hawkins. “We work to help employers understand that and provide work environments conducive to helping moms continue to breastfeed.”

Four steps are encouraged to make work environments more breastfeeding friendly: support from managers and coworkers; flexible time to express milk (around 10 to 15 minutes three times per day); education for employees about how to combine breastfeeding and work; and a designated space to breastfeed or express milk in privacy.

Public health officials stress that continuing breastfeeding after returning to work is often necessary to meet the recommendations for optimal infant nutrition.

Meanwhile, families, health professionals, governments, employers and communities must support breastfeeding mothers for the mother to have a successful breastfeeding experience.

“When breastfeeding mothers have little support, they are more likely to stop breastfeeding before they reach their goals,” said Marlene Goodlett, breastfeeding promotion coordinator for Kentucky public health.

Goodlett stressed the call for support extends to the general public. She said one barrier can be breastfeeding in public.

Kentucky law protects women who wish to breastfeed their babies in public. This law permits a mother to breastfeed her baby or express breast milk in any public or private location. This measure also requires that breastfeeding not be considered an act of public indecency or indecent exposure.

“Luckily, attitudes have changed a lot regarding breastfeeding in public, but many are unaware that Kentucky law protects mothers from being asked to feed their babies in private or threatened with public indecency,” said Goodlett. “It’s very important that all mothers are familiar with this law and understand their rights.”

Additional information on breastfeeding can be found at www.chfs.ky.gov/dph/ach/ns/breastfeeding.htm.