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A Breastfeeding Boost Might Improve Ohio's Infant-Mortality Rate

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Experts say breastfeeding support in the delivery room is one beneficial step for moms trying to nurse their newborns. (J.K. Califf/Flickr)
Experts say breastfeeding support in the delivery room is one beneficial step for moms trying to nurse their newborns. (J.K. Califf/Flickr)
 By Mary KuhlmanContact
March 3, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Providing better support to help new moms breastfeed might be a key to improving birth outcomes for the youngest Ohioans.

Ohio ranks 45th among states for infant mortality, and for African-American babies, the rate is even higher. According to a new policy brief from the Children's Defense Fund Ohio, more than 18 percent of black infants are exclusively breastfed for three months after birth, compared with 41 percent of white infants.

Given the benefits of breast milk, said Renuka Mayadev, CDF Ohio executive director, increasing the number of women who breastfeed could help turn the tide.

"The nutrients and antibodies of breast milk provide babies the benefit of their mother's immune systems, resulting in reduced risks for infection and disease," she said. "And breastfed children are better protected against illnesses like diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia."

Some women are unable to breastfeed for medical reasons, but others report not having the support they need to care for their child in that way. Mayadev said a lack of health care and nutrition support can be a barrier for moms who are trying to nurse. The report recommended home visits from lactation consultants and requiring hospitals to promote breastfeeding in the delivery room, to encourage new moms.

The report noted unsupportive work environments and a lack of paid time off as other potential obstacles. Mayadev said babies most susceptible to poor outcomes are those least likely to have parents with access to paid leave.

"We have about 70 percent of all women with children are in the workforce," she said, "so they are working moms that need to be supported with family leave, after delivery or the adoption of a child."

The policy brief also noted that important breastfeeding provisions are at risk as national leaders discuss repealing the Affordable Care Act. The law contains many women's preventive-care requirements, including insurance coverage for lactation consultants and breast pumps for nursing mothers.

The report is online at cdfohio.org.

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded by the George Gund Foundation.

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