Breastfeeding Rates Rise; KY Could Do More to Encourage New Moms

Courtesy Wavebreak Media

With breastfeeding offering a vast array of health benefits for infants and their mothers as well, the number of mothers who breastfeed their babies in this country is on the rise. However, Kentucky has the second-lowest percentage in the nation, with just over half of new moms, some 53 percent, choosing to breastfeed.

The increase nationwide isn't an anomaly, but a return to the norm, according to international board-certified lactation consultant Katherine Wilson-Thompson, although she notes that too many mothers are still giving up too quickly on the practice.

"We've gotten the message out that breastfeeding is absolutely important, but duration seems to be the issue, as well as exclusivity," Wilson-Thompson said. "Most moms are initiating breastfeeding, but very frequently they start supplementing with artificial baby milk and tend to wean prematurely."

The latest figures from the CDC show that 77 percent of mothers nationwide tried breastfeeding in 2010, but only 27 percent were still doing so a year later. In Kentucky, the rate for one-year-olds is even lower, at 19 percent.

Nurse Karen Pelfrey, the Health Department breastfeeding coordinator for eight eastern Kentucky counties, said education is the key to improving participation.

"People aren't educated about the benefits of breastfeeding and how wonderful it is, and what all it can do for their baby, and for themselves as well, actually."

Pelfrey said empowering women to speak up for themselves about their choices with their doctors is also important.

Katherine Wilson-Thompson said the large drop-off in breastfeeding as time passes shows that mothers need to reach out to friends and family for help, and connect with a growing number of local and national support groups.

"And I'd recommend moms start while they're pregnant, not wait until after they have their baby, because women that are pregnant can benefit from seeing how newborns nurse, as well as breastfeeding for a normal length of time," she said.

Benefits of breastfeeding for the baby include a lower risk of SIDS, protection from illnesses and improved cognitive development. For mothers, the gains include a lower risk of some types of cancer and a lower likelihood of postpartum depression.

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