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FOR RELEASE: July 28, 2005
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Returning to Work a Significant Barrier to Breastfeeding in Oklahoma
August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week

Although breastfeeding improves the health of both mothers and babies, less than 70 percent of Oklahoma’s new mothers initiate breastfeeding, according to a study just released by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH).

In a statewide random survey called PRAMS conducted by the OSDH, many new mothers said they did not initiate breastfeeding because they planned to return to work or school. Lack of workplace support, limited sanitary or comfortable places to pump milk, and few break times in which to pump, may be possible explanations for not breastfeeding. This, despite the fact that employers who provide accommodations for breastfeeding mothers may ultimately save money on fewer employee absences and improved productivity, as well as an increase in employee morale.

The study found that only 51.1 percent of African-American and 60.9 percent of American Indian mothers initiated breastfeeding compared to White mothers at 71.7 percent. Hispanic women initiated breastfeeding at 75.9 percent compared to non-Hispanic mothers at 68.3 percent.

“We are concerned about the low level of breastfeeding by mothers in our state,” said Suzanne Dooley, chief of the OSDH Maternal and Child Health Service. “We are trying to raise the level of awareness with parents, extended families and health care providers to find ways to overcome barriers and increase support for Oklahoma’s breastfeeding mothers.”

Dooley pointed out that breastfeeding is a natural function and when infants are not breastfed, the risk of health problems increases due to decreased immune systems and decreased resistance to infectious diseases. Such problems might include increased respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, hospitalizations, and increased risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, asthma and leukemia.

Some significant findings of the Oklahoma PRAMS study showed:

  • Women with less than a high school education initiated breastfeeding at significantly lower rates than mothers who had 12 years or more of education.
  • Women who had unintended pregnancies initiated breastfeeding at lower rates than women with intended pregnancies.
  • Mothers with no previous births or with only one child were also more likely to initiate breastfeeding than women with two or more children.
  • Mothers most likely to breastfeed were those who received first trimester prenatal care (71.1 percent) compared to women who received care in the second trimester (62.7 percent) and compared to those in third trimester (42.8 percent).
  • Among women with prenatal care paid by Medicaid only 59.3 percent initiated breastfeeding compared to women without Medicaid during their prenatal period at 78.1 percent.

Public health officials offer the following recommendations based on the study:

  • Educate providers - Develop standards for patient and provider education using evidence-based information.
  • Educate prospective parents - Ensure access to information, and facilitate discussions to address concerns and options available.
  • Educate community/society - Develop standards for education that begin with school-age children and advocate for family and community support for breastfeeding.
  • Identify cultural barriers - Examine cultural barriers to breastfeeding in American Indian and African American populations, and develop interventions to reduce those barriers.

For more information on breastfeeding, consult your health care provider or local county health department. To view the entire breastfeeding study, check out this Web site: http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/mchp&e/pramarch.html.

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