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FOR RELEASE: January 19, 2006
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Study Shows Length of Time Oklahoma Mothers Breastfeed is Short

According to a study completed by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), almost 70 percent of Oklahoma mothers begin breastfeeding their babies at birth, yet only 40 percent of those infants older than eight weeks of age continued nursing, despite the many health benefits of extended breastfeeding for both infants and mothers.

In addition, the study found that only about 10 percent of Oklahoma infants were fed breast milk exclusively. The recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization are for all mothers to exclusively breastfeed during the first six months of life.

A statewide random survey called PRAMS, using 2000-2002 data gathered by the OSDH, revealed that most new mothers initiate breastfeeding, however, more than half discontinue by two months. Many of the researched long-term benefits of breastfeeding are the result of extended (four to six months) exclusive nursing, indicating that the longer women nurse, the more positive impact it will have on their health and their baby’s health.

“We have plenty of well-documented research that shows that breastfeeding for four to six months benefits both mom and baby. Breastfed babies are less likely to develop ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and obesity and diabetes later in life. Also, nursing moms benefit from losing weight gained during pregnancy sooner, and they are at decreased risk of developing certain types of cancer, heart disease and diabetes,” said OSDH Maternal and Child Health Service Chief Suzanna Dooley.

Public health officials noted that many new mothers, especially those under age 25, were more likely to quit breastfeeding during the first two weeks following the birth of their babies. Factors related to socioeconomic status also impacted length of breastfeeding duration. Mothers with a high school education or less, or who were Medicaid recipients, were less likely to continue breastfeeding. Mothers returning to work and to school may also be less likely to continue breastfeeding for more than eight weeks. And women who smoked postpartum were far less likely to breastfeed for any given time period.

“Breastfeeding is a natural function and when infants are not breastfed, the risk of health problems increases. We want to get more information to the young mothers about the many benefits of breastfeeding and find ways to help them overcome the obstacles that prevent them from continuing to breastfeed for at least six months. More support for breastfeeding mothers by their families, communities and employers can help improve breastfeeding duration tremendously,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Mike Crutcher.

Significant findings from the Oklahoma PRAMS survey indicate the following:

  • About 60 percent of Oklahoma mothers breastfed their infants for at least two weeks.
  • Of the women who initiated breastfeeding, almost 10 percent quit during the first two weeks.
  • Only one in 10 infants in Oklahoma was breastfed exclusively at the time of the survey, regardless of the duration.
  • Only 52 percent of infants in childcare had been breastfed for more than eight weeks, compared to nearly 63 percent of children not in childcare.
  • Women who smoke are more likely to quit breastfeeding earlier than mothers who do not smoke.

Public health officials offer the following recommendations:

  • Educate health care providers and families about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and factors that shorten duration such as delayed initiation of breastfeeding, risks of supplementing with other nutrition, and mothers returning to work.
  • Advocate for lactation friendly workplaces that provide adequate time and space for mothers to pump milk.
  • Provide interventions to increase breastfeeding duration in groups at high risk for early weaning including women under age 25, smokers, women with low incomes, and mothers with preterm or sick babies.
  • Increase professional lactation support to ensure the availability of lactation professionals in all health care facilities that deliver perinatal or pediatric care.
  • Increase the number of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) in Oklahoma.
  • Increase community support and resources through formation of mother-to-mother peer support groups like LaLeche League.

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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