In spite of statewide efforts, Delaware breastfeeding stats are down [video]

New statistics show that fewer mothers are breastfeeding their babies in Delaware, but state health officials don’t believe that the dip signals a downward trend.

Compiled by the Centers for Disease Control, Delaware’s 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card revealed a 3.8 percentage point drop in mothers who attempted breastfeeding when compared with numbers from 2012. The declines were consistent among mothers who were breastfeeding at three, six and 12 months.

Delaware Division of Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay said Delaware has steadily seen an increase in breastfeeding numbers. She said it’s too early to say whether the numbers signal the first intimations of trouble.

“That 2013 report card is a reflection of 2010 data, in other words, that survey was completed in 2010 and a lot of the progress that we’ve made as a state in the initiatives we’ve been able to put in place have taken place beginning 2010 and since then,” Rattay said.

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Rattay said new numbers are due out later this month. She suspects the data will positively reflect the state’s efforts.

Statewide initiatives

Since 2010, Rattay said the state has used its supplemental nutrition program to educate women who typically do not breastfeed about the benefits of nursing.

“African-American women tend to be half as likely, for example, to breastfeed compared to white and Hispanic women. And low-income women tend to be a lot less likely to breastfeed compared to women who have a higher income. And so using the WIC program is a great way to reach some of those more vulnerable populations,” said Rattay, who added that the number of WIC moms now choosing to breastfeed has doubled.

The majority of the state’s hospitals are also well on their way to becoming what’s called “baby-friendly,” which means that maternity practices in the hospital are supportive of breastfeeding. For example, baby-friendly hospitals will implement skin-to-skin time for mom and baby, will keep mom and baby together in the room and will only provide formula if requested.

The CDC started a program to help hospitals earn this designation, the logic being that the more baby-friendly designated hospitals there are, the greater the likelihood of improving national breastfeeding statistics.

Out of 200 applicants nationwide, Christiana Care was one of 89 hospitals chosen for the federal program. Christiana Care began the process in approximately 2010 and is now in the final stages.

“It’s a very daunting task to become baby-friendly certified,” said Sherry Monson, vice president of Women, Infants and Children Services at Christiana Care. “We’ve trained over 450 staff, and being the largest birthing hospital in the tri-state area, with 6,500 deliveries a year, we’ll take any resources we can get to help us achieve that for our moms and babies.”

Rattay said that increasing the number of babies who are breastfed is a top priority for the state, whose numbers fall short of the national average.

“There’s an abundant amount of science that supports the health benefits of breastfeeding,” Rattay said. “Our more recent data are also confirming the benefits in decreasing risk for developing leukemia, or developing diabetes, or developing overweight or obesity, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the risk is decreased among breastfed babies and I could go on and on, the benefits are numerous.”

Rattay cited a recent American Academy of Pediatrics study that looked into the economics of breastfeeding. The study estimated that if 90 percent of mothers were to breastfeed as recommended, the U.S. would save $13 billion in health care-related costs per year.

In the trenches

Despite these trends, Katie Madden, an international board-certified lactation consultant, is less concerned about the statewide drop in breastfeeding numbers and more worried about the number of moms who initiate breastfeeding and quit months later.

“You can get off to a great start, and then you encounter going back to work; that’s a huge hurdle. You get off to a great start and then we start solids and we have to integrate that, we have behavioral issues, so throughout the duration of breastfeeding there’s a psychological strain and that’s something that we’re really not addressing and most people are not aware of,” said Madden, who has helped more than 500 women nurse their babies.

Even the best-intentioned moms, Madden said, often fall victim to feelings of doubt and wanting to take the easy way out, i.e. formula feeding.

“When they get in the trenches and realize how hard it is, they’re suddenly given permission by many different healthcare providers, family members that are well-intended to say, ‘You know what, formula is okay.’ And formula is okay, that’s not the point,” she said. “This is where I think personal responsibility is really important. Yeah, it is easier to formula feed most of the time, especially in the beginning, but that doesn’t mean that you have to take that option.”

However, Madden explained that breastfeeding is not an all-or-nothing proposition, and that formula is often a critical supplemental tool for nursing moms.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least 12 months. To get there, Madden, who leads a breastfeeding support group at The Birth Center in Wilmington every Friday afternoon, said emotional and psychological support is critical.

“That is so important when you’re breastfeeding because if you feel alone, if you feel like there’s no hope, that nobody’s there for you, that’s when you’re going to want to quit because you just feel absolutely abandoned,” said Madden, who also founded, a resource for nursing moms seeking online support.

Big Latch On 2014

The first week of August is World Breastfeeding Week. To kick things off locally, Madden is hosting Delaware’s second annual Big Latch On in Newark.

The event brings together as many breastfeeding women together as possible to simultaneously latch their babies. A count is then taken and contributed to a world record.

“My goal in hosting the Big Latch-On here in Delaware is to bring a general sense of community and awareness to how many women really are breastfeeding. Just like in the support group setting, seeing other people breastfeeding is really uplifting and empowering,” said Madden, who encourages pregnant women to attend.

Last year, Delaware moms accounted for 82 of the 14,536 latches worldwide. Madden hopes to double that number this weekend.

“Eventually, I would love breastfeeding to just be normal. Something that you need help with sometimes and that is an easy and healthy thing to do that usually works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s just a normal part of being a mother,” Madden said.

This year’s event will take place on Saturday, Aug. 2, at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Pike Creek in Newark. The Big Latch On occurs promptly at 10:30 a.m.

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