Officials with the Louisiana Department of Health (DHH) are reminding parents about the benefits of breastfeeding to the long-term health of their children during Breastfeeding Week in Louisiana, August 1-7, 2010, as proclaimed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Breastfeeding Week in Louisiana is part of an international effort to raise awareness about the importance and benefits of breastfeeding during World Breastfeeding Week.
This year's theme is "Breastfeeding: Just 10 Steps. The Baby-Friendly Way," which focus on steps hospitals, health care providers, workplaces, communities and families can take to help mothers achieve their breastfeeding goals.
"Raising healthy babies is a critical component of improving the long-term health outcomes for Louisianians," said Clayton Williams, assistant secretary for the LDH Office of Public Health. "Encouraging and supporting breastfeeding mothers is one more tool we can use to make our children healthier. Breastfeeding is proven to have health benefits to Mom as well as to reduce obesity in children and build stronger immune systems. These small, but powerful steps can contribute significantly to improving an individual's overall health."
Louisiana has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the nation, ranking second to last in breastfeeding initiation. According to 2007 Louisiana Pregnancy Risk Assessment and Monitoring System data, only 53 percent of women have ever breastfed their babies in Louisiana, compared to 74 percent nationally.
"Many women don't breastfeed because they lack community support" said Marci Brewer Asling, statewide coordinator for Louisiana's The GIFT (Guided Infant Feeding Techniques), a program to increase hospital support for breastfeeding. "There is a lot that we can all do to support breastfeeding. Physicians and health care providers can praise mothers and encourage them to seek help if they have concerns. Hospitals can implement best practices, such as the 'Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.' Employers can provide accommodations so that employees can express their milk, communities can welcome breastfeeding mothers, and families can help mothers by praising her and assisting with other household chores."
To fit breastfeeding into their lives, mothers need the community support to encourage them and their decision beginning with the earliest days after their babies are born. Research shows that the best feeding option is the initiation of breastfeeding within the first half hour of life, exclusive breastfeeding for a full six months and continued breastfeeding through the second year or beyond. Breastfeeding improves short- and long-term maternal and child health and has been proven to reduce the child's risk of numerous diseases and illnesses.
World Breastfeeding Week theme's emphasis on "Baby-Friendly" refers to the international Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative that focuses on "Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding." These steps have been proven to directly increase breastfeeding initiation, duration and exclusivity across all populations.
To improve breastfeeding rates and support for all mothers in Louisiana, several important initiatives are underway.
The GIFT is a breastfeeding certification program that encourages and supports Louisiana hospitals in implementing evidence-based practices around infant feeding and maternal and infant bonding. The GIFT is a joint effort between the Louisiana Maternal and Child Health Coalition, the Louisiana Perinatal Commission and the Office of Public Health-Maternal and Child Health Program. "There are currently 18 "GIFT Certified" birthing facilities in the state.
The Louisiana Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) provides breastfeeding education and support to its participants and the community through different channels. Designated Breastfeeding Coordinators, nurses, nutritionists, health educators, nutrition educators and the WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program counsel moms on how to make different breastfeeding strategies work for them.
WIC clinics also provide breast pumps to mothers needing assistance with breastfeeding due to premature and hospitalized infants, other medical or breastfeeding problems and the need to return to school or work while still choosing to provide breast milk for their infant.
WIC also partners with breastfeeding entities, such as the Louisiana Breastfeeding Coalition, the Maternal Child Health Coalition, the Louisiana Lactation Consultant Association, the Greater New Orleans Breastfeeding Awareness Coalition, the Central Louisiana Breastfeeding Coalition and the Acadiana Breastfeeding Coalition to recruit local businesses statewide to become breastfeeding-friendly worksites and increase community support for breastfeeding.
For more information about breastfeeding concerns, or to get referrals to breastfeeding support organizations, contact the Partners for Healthy Babies Helpline, 1-800-251-BABY (2229), or online at www.1800251baby.org.
For more information on World Breastfeeding Week and find the "Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding," visit http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/.
The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov.