Kansas, Reno lead the way in setting standards for improving infant health through breastfeeding
Jan. 31--A U.S. Department of Agriculture study released this month indicates that significantly more mothers involved in its Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children are initiating breastfeeding than they were 20 years ago.
According to the second, most recent study, which gathered data from WIC caregivers and their children up to age 5, the breastfeeding initiation rate was 83 percent in 2013, compared to 56 percent in the first study, conducted between 1994 and 1995.
"We are very encouraged by the findings," said Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concanon. "We're pleased to note in the survey, these moms are citing the WIC program as being one of the sources of advice and counsel that have resulted in these increased rates."
Nearly 60 percent of caregivers went to a WIC location to learn about feeding their infant, second only to their doctor or health professional, he added.
More than 95 percent of study mothers said WIC played a role in their decision to begin breastfeeding.
"It's a program that has outstanding reach and is clearly one of the most important public health programs in the whole array of public health for the U.S.," he said of the program, which serves 53 percent of infants born in the nation.
WIC serves low-income women who are pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum, along with infants up to age 1 and children up to age 5. The program provides qualified families nutrition, healthy food, health education and services.
Breastfeeding initiation rates are also increasing locally, said Heather Peterson, WIC coordinator at the Reno County Health Department.
The percentage of women initiating breastfeeding went from 72.4 percent in 2014 to a steady 79 percent in 2015 and 2016.
Peterson said in 2015, Reno County began its first full year of the Becoming A Mom program, a six-session class that, in part, covers breastfeeding.
The USDA study also indicates that breastfeeding rates have more than doubled in 20 years for women three to 12 months postpartum.
In both studies, more than half of the mothers stopped breastfeeding by the time their infant reached 3 months old. Recent study mothers said they stopped because breast milk alone didn't satisfy the baby, they couldn't produce enough milk or the baby was no longer interested in nursing.
Like study mothers, said Peterson, a decent percentage of WIC mothers in Reno County also tend to stop breastfeeding by 1 month postpartum, and those who are still breastfeeding at 6 months postpartum tend to continue to do so after that point.
She's learned that the drop-off is because women are returning to work and they find it difficult to juggle breastfeeding and their job responsibilities.
While this is true for some mothers, she's seeing other mothers continue to feed their infants breast milk for longer periods of time -- some with exclusively breast milk.
Peterson said they'd like to learn when mothers need the most assistance so that when that time hits, they can have a list of resources readily available to support them -- like talking to the department's breastfeeding peer counselor.
Breast milk is the best nutrition an infant can have, as it includes vitamins, protein and fat which help the infant grow. It also has antibodies to help fight viruses and bacteria. Human milk is also proven to reduce an infant's risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, ear infections and the likelihood of childhood obesity.
Breastfeeding is also beneficial for mothers, as it is known to reduce weight gain after birth, the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and bleeding postpartum, Peterson said.
What's being done locally
Wendy Henry-Moraskie, a spokeswoman for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, said Kansas and Reno County are "leading the way in improving health outcomes for children through increased breastfeeding."
The Reno County WIC program is a little different than other state programs, as it partners with the Community Agricultural Site (CAS), which grows produce for WIC families. These families also have access to a dietitian for nutritional advice.
A breastfeeding class is also offered through WIC, which promotes consistent breastfeeding practices for the hospital, Hutchinson Clinic and the health department nursing staff.
Martha Hagen, breastfeeding coordinator for the Kansas Nutrition and WIC Services, said the success of this program has led Hutchinson Clinic to achieve a designation as a "Physician's Office Supporting Breastfeeding" through the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition.
PrairieStar Health Center has also been granted this designation, said Rogena Johnson, chief medical officer at the health center.
Hutchinson Regional Medical Center has completed the initial High 5 for Mom Baby Education Class, but is working toward achieving full program recognition. According to its website, High 5 encourages hospitals to adopt practices that motivate mothers to initiate breastfeeding at the hospital and continue to breastfeed after leaving with their bundle of joy.
Jill White, director of patient care services at the hospital, said in a recent presentation to the health care system management team, there was a desire to further educate health care workers, including those at their facility.
Because of this, the hospital partnered with the health department and Hutchinson Clinic in offering "Breastfeeding 101" classes for staff and physicians.
Last April, Stephanie Kaufman, discharge and lactation nurse for the hospital's labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum department, became a certified lactation counselor to help assist mothers who are trying to breastfeed.
Kaufman's recent certification is the "gold standard" for breastfeeding experts, Peterson said, and the hospital is fortunate to have her.
Becoming a community supporting breastfeeding
Hutchinson is working on attaining a "Community Supporting Breastfeeding" designation by June.
Hutchinson was selected as one of five Kansas communities for the designation due to its commitment to helping mothers reach their breastfeeding goals.
Coordinator Anette Roberson said to achieve the nomination, the community must meet six criteria. So far it's met four.
Before June, 14 more businesses must take the "Breastfeeding Welcome Here" pledge, whereby they agree to provide a warm, welcoming environment where mothers can feed their infants.
With the help of a yellow and blue window cling, mothers will know which public locations not only encourage breastfeeding, but believe its "normal, accepted and welcomed," according to the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition website.
The community must also have four additional employers presented with the "Breastfeeding Employees Support Award" for supporting nursing employees at work.
"The businesses and residents of Hutchinson can help in many ways," Roberson said via email. "They can become part of the coalition, they can encourage their employers, or if they are a business, they can reach out to the coalition and support mothers."
Residents can also support these mothers "that are doing what's best for their babies," she said, and understand that state law indicates "a woman has the right to nurse anywhere she has the right to be."