by Carol Anne Simpson, Keene State Dietetic Intern
You probably know that breastfeeding is a natural, healthy way for a baby to get a great start to life. Breastfeeding is beneficial to a child’s health in so many ways, reducing rates of allergies, infections, diarrhea, and contributing to stronger mother-infant bonding. But, it’s benefits reach even farther. Moms who breastfeed experience reduced rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and diabetes.
Empowering women in our community to breastfeed also helps to build stronger family ties and contributes to us becoming the nation’s healthiest community.
While information and the science about the benefits of breastfeeding may be clear, there continues to be a disparity in breastfeeding among women of different income levels and backgrounds in the Monadnock region. According to data from the most recent National Immunization Survey, lower-income New Hampshire women enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) reported a 71.7% breastfeeding initiation rate compared with 86.4% among more economically advantaged women. And when it comes to continuation only 22.9% of NH WIC moms are exclusively nursing at 3 months compared with 51.7% of higher income women.
We know from research conducted in the Monadnock Region by Keene State College that WIC mothers face barriers such as lack of reliable transportation, lack of access to services, lack of a support system, too quick a return to work after delivery and workplace policies that are not as supportive as they could be.
I’d like to tell you the story of Kelly, a local mom with two daughters, one age four & one 8 months. Kelly had a challenging experience with breastfeeding her first daughter, including both a low supply and positioning problems. She also had to overcome the challenge of returning to work part time. With support from local health professionals, including those at WIC & Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock-Keene, Kelly has a breastfeeding success story. Having breastfed her oldest daughter for 2 years and currently successfully breastfeeding her second child.
So, what can be done to ensure that every new mother has success like Kelly?
As a family member, you can support the new mother and baby by being encouraging, especially in the first days and weeks when both mother and baby are learning to nurse. Male partners, fathers and grandfathers can be particularly influential by reinforcing how important they know breastfeeding to be to the new mother and baby’s health and connection.
As employers, talk to employees ahead of time – let them know that they have your support and that they will have the time and place to breastfeed when they return to work. If you need help creating a breastfeeding friendly policy, you can contact the Workplace Wellness Breastfeeding Policy Group for assistance at 603-354-5460. Providing breastfeeding support in the workplace doesn’t just benefit moms – it has been shown to increase employee productivity and reduce absenteeism.
As community members we all can help to promote and protect breastfeeding in the Monadnock region. Be open to breastfeeding and understand breastfeeding is a natural, healthy way to feed a baby. Give your friends or family who choose to breastfeed support and encouragement.
Our region is fortunate to have many resources available to support breastfeeding. If eligible, WIC is available to provide extra breastfeeding support and information to moms before and after delivery. For information call 603.352.7512. Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene and Monadnock Community Hospital are both Baby-Friendly Designated Hospitals which means they are committed to breastfeeding education, support and success. Local La Leche League leaders, Breastfeeding USA , Rise for Baby & Family, Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services (home visiting), independent midwives, local doulas, and lactation consultants are available to provide support, education and assistance before, during and after birth.
Working together as breastfeeding advocates, we can create a community where every mother can find it easier to choose to breastfeed for as long as best for her and her baby.