During World Breastfeeding Week, Louisiana Department of Health officials are reminding parents that breastfeeding can contribute to the long-term health of their children. Gov. Bobby Jindal proclaimed August 1-7, 2011 Breastfeeding Week in Louisiana as part of an international effort to raise awareness about the many benefits of breastfeeding.

"Whether to breastfeed is one of the first decisions we make as parents, and it's also one of the most important because it can impact a child's lifelong health," said LDH Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein.  That's why it's so important parents, especially first-time mothers, have all the facts. Every child deserves the best chance at a healthy future, and we want parents to know there are resources available to help."

The 2011 theme, "Talk to me! Breastfeeding - a 3D Experience," focuses on three dimensions that affect parents' decisions about breastfeeding - time (from pre-pregnancy to weaning), place (the home, community, health care system, etc.) and communication. With this theme, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) emphasizes the importance of communication in protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding.

"There is so much that each of us can do to support breastfeeding," said Marci Brewer Asling, statewide coordinator for Louisiana's The GIFT (Guided Infant Feeding Techniques), a program to increase hospital support for breastfeeding. "Advancements in technology have created more opportunities than ever for us to encourage families. We now can share information and learn from other people's experiences regardless of their geographic locations, creating a vast community that stretches across states, countries and cultures."

Louisiana has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the nation, ranking third to last in breastfeeding initiation. According to the 2007 CDC National Immunization Survey data, only 56 percent of women have ever breastfed their babies in Louisiana, compared to 75 percent nationally.

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.

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 21 "GIFT Certified" birthing facilities in the state. Hospitals in Louisiana that have been awarded GIFT Certification have proven that they support breastfeeding moms. They train their staff to support breastfeeding and have breastfeeding-friendly policies. The GIFT program improves the quality of patient care, promotes the hospital's services to the community and provides a supportive and encouraging environment for new mothers.

The Louisiana Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) provides breastfeeding education and support to members of the community. Designated breastfeeding coordinators, nurses, nutritionists, health educators and the WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program help moms successfully breastfeed. WIC clinics also provide breast pumps to mothers who need breastfeeding assistance.

Their work doesn't stop with parents. WIC has partnered with a number of breastfeeding entities, including 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, the Acadiana Breastfeeding Coalition and the Breastfeeding Awareness Network and Coalition of Northeast Louisiana to help Louisiana businesses increase community support for breastfeeding and create breastfeeding-friendly worksites.

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, 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. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's blog, Twitter account and Facebook.