Jeremy Olson writes about children and families, and is an overscheduled father of two. His blog tackles the best and worst of parenting, families, health and love. He wants to hear from you - what's going on in your house?
New federal survey data shows an increase in mothers trying breastfeeding, when comparing babies born in 2008 to those born in 2009, but not in Minnesota. While the rate of new moms who tried breastfeeding increased from 74.6 percent to 76.9 percent nationally, the rate dropped from 82.5 percent to 78 in Minnesota over that same one-year timeframe.
That is the lowest rate of Minnesota moms attempting breastfeeding since 2002, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The drop in Minnesota could be an anomaly, because of the 4 to 5 percentage point margin of error for state results in the CDC's National Immunization Survey. But it certainly isn't the good news for which advocates in the state have hoped. Given research showing that breastfeeding helps babies build stronger immune systems and reduces risks of obesity and other conditions, state leaders formed the Minnesota Breastfeeding Coalition in 2006. The organization's goal is to train and support doctors and hospitals so they in turn can support new mothers in trying and sticking with breastfeeding for their infants.
It's about "learning how to encourage the mother to keep working at it, because it doesn't just happen," said Jeanette Schwartz, who serves on the state coalition and directs maternity care for the HealthEast Woodwinds hospital in Woodbury.
She acknowledged the statistical drop in breastfeeding attempts from 2008 to 2009 in Minnesota, which was reported last week in the CDC's 2012 Breastfeeding Report Card, but couldn't explain the trend. Reticence about breastfeeding in Minnesota's large Hmong and Somali immigrant communities could be part of the issue, she said.
She expects breastfeeding rates to increase in subsequent federal reports showing births in Minnesota for 2010 through 2012. More hospitals in the state are achieving national "Baby Friendly" designations, she said, which means their maternity staff are trained to support new mothers when they indicate a willingness to try breastfeeding.
In the past, Schwartz said hospitals unwittingly "sabotaged" breastfeeding efforts. It is unhelpful, for example, to whisk newborns away to nurseries in their first four hours of life, she said, because that is a crucial time to initiate breastfeeding and to coax mothers to produce breast milk. They also gave out free samples of formula, sending mixed messages to mothers heading home with their newborns. HealthEast and other hospital chains have discontinued giving out samples.
Not all of the news from the federal survey was bad. An estimated 53.8 percent of infants born in Minnesota in 2009 were still being breastfed at 6 months of age, and 29.2 percent were still being breastfed at 12 months. Both numbers were decade highs for Minnesota, and were above national averages. So even if fewer Minnesota moms tried breastfeeding in 2009, it appears those that did were more likely to stick with it. The state is below national averages for infants who are being exclusively breastfed at 3 and 6 months of age -- meaning that Minnesota moms are supplementing breast milk with formula or other alternatives.