Health & Fitness

Breastfeeding is beneficial — so, why aren’t more new mothers sticking with it?

August awareness month helps support breastfeeding mothers

Despite known health benefits, breastfeeding mothers stop too soon — one reason is the lack of public support. Health experts at Stanislaus County and Kaiser Permanente Modesto rally for breastfeeding mothers.
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Despite known health benefits, breastfeeding mothers stop too soon — one reason is the lack of public support. Health experts at Stanislaus County and Kaiser Permanente Modesto rally for breastfeeding mothers.

Breast milk — it does a baby good!

Perhaps a catchy slogan can rally the community support that breastfeeding mothers are missing.

Without the needed support, some Stanislaus County mothers stop breastfeeding their infants sooner than doctors recommend.

August is National Breastfeeding Month, with the goals of raising community awareness and increasing support for breastfeeding mothers.

“We’re focusing on keeping moms breastfeeding as long as they can,” said Veronica Plaugher, the coordinator for the Women’s Infants and Children (WIC) program at Stanislaus County Health Services Agency.

She said though the data for initiation of breastfeeding look good, by six months, only 12% of WIC moms are exclusively breastfeeding, about half of the nationwide average.

“Women stop breastfeeding for a variety of reasons,” said Plaugher, “They have unforeseen challenges, including lack of support.”

Plaugher said other reasons they stop include that the difficulty in it, the pain, the time and having to return to work.

WIC this month held training about lactation support for area hospital staff, doctors and partner organizations. WIC offices also hosted small health fairs for their breastfeeding clients.

Kaiser Permanente Modesto Medical Center newborn specialists are doing their part to ease the path for new moms.

Their concerted efforts are working — they have one of the highest rates in the state, with more than 80% of new mothers exclusively breastfeeding.

“Because lactation has so many benefits and so much impact on our members and the community, I became invested, “ said Marcial Salvador, pediatrician and director of the newborn nursery at Kaiser Modesto.

Salvador is a designated lactation champion. Starting prenatally, Kaiser offers breastfeeding education, nurse midwives assistance, trained nursing staff and lactation specialists in the hospital and clinics.

“I had an amazing experience with the lactation consultants at Kaiser,” said new Modesto mom Allison Waddell at her home earlier this month. She said their help is the reason she’s been successful with breastfeeding.

Waddell is a Kaiser member and mom to 2-week-old Sophia Waddell, who was born a month early and is eating breast milk fortified with a high-calorie formula to help her grow.

“I want her to only have breast milk once her weight is good,” said Waddell, “Because it’s made for her. It’s good for her immune system and has everything she needs, like antibodies and nutrients.”

Health experts recommend breastfeeding

Exclusive breastfeeding for most babies for the first six months and continued until at least 12 months with adding healthy foods is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization.

Breastfeeding is superior to all other options because its composition includes infection-fighting antibodies and nutrients easily digested by newborns, the AAP reported. Research shows breastfed infants have lower risk of obesity, ear, respiratory and intestinal infections, asthma and crib death.

Mothers benefit, too.

Salvador said they are more likely to return to their pre-pregnancy weight, as shown by University of California, Davis researchers. The mothers also have decreased risks for postpartum bleeding, diabetes, hypertension, and breast and ovarian cancer, according to the CDC.

Stanislaus County moms tend to move away from the practice once they leave the hospital.

About 90% of Stanislaus County mothers initiate breastfeeding, but only 67% are exclusively breastfeeding at the time of hospital discharge. By comparison, among all new California mothers, 94% did some nursing and about 70% were exclusively breastfeeding.

Of the four hospitals in the county with newborn deliveries, Kaiser Modesto mothers had the highest rates, with 95% doing some nursing and 82% exclusively breastfeeding.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action reported that differences in hospitals’ breastfeeding rates may in part be attributed to hospital policies. Some practices interfere with breastfeeding, such as giving newborns bottles or pacifiers, babies not rooming-in with mothers and inadequate lactation education.

Social, cultural acceptance

Social and cultural acceptance may also affect a woman’s choice to breastfeed.

In 2017, showed racial disparities for breastfeeding in California. Asians/Pacific Islander, white, and Latina mothers had higher rates (about 90% for each group) than African Americans (about 83%), consistent with national data. Women with Medi-Cal were slightly less likely to report having breastfed than Californians in general.

To increase the rate of breastfeeding for black infants, the CDC recommends interventions to address barriers that disproportionately affect black mothers, including earlier return to work, unsupportive workplaces, less education about breastfeeding from healthcare providers, and lack of access to lactation specialists.

However, Plaugher said that regardless of race, many Stanislaus mothers switch to formula before their babies reach six months.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location.

In January, California’s “breastfeeding break” law went into effect mandating that employers provide sufficient break time for mothers to pump breast milk. In addition, they must provide a private space for mothers to pump and bathrooms cannot count. The law originated from a provision in the Affordable Care Act.

The decrease in breastfeeding by six months suggests that some mothers may not have sufficient support from their families, employers and health care providers, according to the CDC.

“I’m a barista at Starbucks,” said Barbara Baglione, breastfeeding mother of 2-day-old Brantley Riner at Kaiser Modesto. She was bottle-feeding Brantley breast milk, because they were preparing for discharge. She’s not worried about breastfeeding after returning to work in a month because her employer has accommodations.

Baglione is fortunate to have a workplace that’s following the law.

“We have plenty of moms report that their employers aren’t supporting them,” said Plaugher, “WIC has a card stating “Know Your Rights” for moms for their workplace.”

Unfortunately, public opinion hasn’t kept up with the resounding endorsement of the medical community or the laws. Only 68% of Americans support breastfeeding in public.

If the health benefits aren’t convincing enough to merit community support — economics should.

Breastfeeding saves money for individuals and taxpayers. A 2010 evaluation estimated if 90% of all U.S. infants were exclusively breastfed for six months, it would save $13 billion and prevent 911 deaths. The cost savings come from not purchasing formula, bottles and related supplies, as well as less medical expenses for the infants and mothers.

“WIC can only do so much, “ said Plaugher, “so, [mothers] need the community support.”

This story was produced with financial support from The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of this work.

In-Hospital Breastfeeding for Mothers in California Overall and Stanislaus County Hospitals in 2016, from the California Department of Public Health.

Mothers with any breastfeedingMothers with exclusive breastfeeding
Stanislaus County90%70%
Kaiser Modesto95%82%
Doctors Medical Center87%73%
Memorial Hospital89%66%
Emmanuel Medical Center91%42%