Health & Fitness

Dr. Wood: Let’s support breastfeeding for the sake of moms and babies

According to the World Health Organization, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated the first week of August every year. This August, the Thurston County Board of Health will proclaim August Breastfeeding Month. The Board wants the community to understand that supporting new moms in breastfeeding their babies is important for health. In fact, there is clear scientific evidence that breastfeeding has significant benefits for both moms and babies.

Breastfeeding does some surprising things for moms. It lowers the mother’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer. Breastfed babies are at lower risk for developing serious diseases such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, childhood leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

In Washington state, more than 90 percent of moms begin breastfeeding their baby at birth. That is great news! But only about 35 percent are still breastfeeding at their child’s first birthday, the age that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. Going back to work is one common reason for giving up breastfeeding.

The U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that the majority of mothers with infants — 57 percent — are working. Support for these moms is crucial, so that they can continue to breastfeed. This support makes sense for employers too. Studies show that breastfeeding mothers miss less work to care for sick infants than mothers who feed their infants formula. In addition, employer health care costs are lower for breastfed babies.

There are lots of ways for employers to support breastfeeding. Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, for example, has an infants at work policy.

The importance of breastfeeding is well recognized, and some key federal laws have been passed to support women who are breastfeeding.

  • In 2010, the Fair Labor Standards Act was amended to include protection for breastfeeding employees. It states that employers shall provide breastfeeding employees with “reasonable break time” and a private, non-bathroom place that is free from intrusion to express breastmilk for one year after the child’s birth. You can learn more about this law at www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers

  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 requires most health insurance plans to cover the cost of a breast pump as part of women’s preventive health services. A breast pump is a device that helps women extract breast milk, which allows moms to store it for use by their baby at a later time. The ACA applies to Health Insurance Marketplace plans and all other private insurance plans except for grandfathered plans. Contact your health insurance company for more specifics. You can learn more basics at https://www.healthcare.gov/coverage/breast-feeding-benefits/

  • There are laws that protect breastfeeding mothers. Some mothers may not feel comfortable doing so, but you have the right to breastfeed your baby wherever, and whenever, your baby is hungry. The Office on Women’s Health offers some tips on how to feed your baby discreetly.

For moms who want to breastfeed, there are several local organizations that offer great information and support. The South Sound Breastfeeding Network publishes a Breastfeeding Resource Guide. This guide is available online, and outlines local breastfeeding resources ranging from lactation consultants to Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Offices available in our area. It is available in English and Spanish at www.southsoundbreastfeeding.org

Another excellent resource for breastfeeding parents or parents-to-be is La Leche League International. They offer breastfeeding support and help with all aspects of breastfeeding. In Thurston County, they are available by phone or text at 360-975-4826, by email at lalecheleagueolympia@gmail.com or find out more at www.llli.org

The WIC program also provides support for families receiving services from the local clinics. The Washington state WIC program offers pregnant and new moms a variety of resources from educational materials and classes to lactation consultants and breastfeeding peer counselors. The peer-counseling program provides contact with local women who have successfully breastfed, received training in breastfeeding education, and are able to help women reach their goals for breastfeeding. To learn more about this program, contact your local WIC clinic. To see if you qualify for WIC services, contact the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.

As a community, it’s important to support families, and breastfeeding is an important tool. It increases bonding between a mother and baby, but also supports the good health of a mother and her child.

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.
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