Source: NJ Spotlight
New Jersey is making statewide progress in encouraging breastfeeding. The number of all babies breastfeeding exclusively at 6 months of age increased from 14 percent in 2012 to 22.3 percent in 2014. This outpaced the national rate, which rose from 15.6 percent in 2012 to 18.8 percent in 2014.
Hospitals are taking the diversity of their patient populations into account in their prenatal educational programs. For example, University Hospital in Newark offers these programs in different languages, including Haitian Creole, and presents materials with photos reflecting the race of program participants. Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune offers peer support through its “centering” program, which brings healthcare workers and mothers together in small groups.
State Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd says that some of the strongest incentives for breastfeeding are economic – families can save $1,200 to $1,500 on formula in a baby’s first year alone.
Similar progress is occurring among low-income families, with breastfeeding babies eligible for assistance through the federal nutrition program for women, infants and children (WIC) increasing from 9 percent in 2010 to 11.3 percent in 2013.
O’Dowd has made increasing breastfeeding rates a priority, pointing to the health benefits. For example, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published in 2011 found that babies who breastfed for nine months had a 30 percent lower rate of childhood obesity than other babies.
Journalist Kimberly Seals Allers, who’s written extensively about African-American women and breastfeeding, said a variety of influences have contributed to their lower breastfeeding rates. This has created what she describes as “first food deserts” – entire communities where it becomes difficult to breastfeed.
She linked the effort to increase breastfeeding to the broader “food justice” movement to increase access to healthy food in urban areas. “If you can’t get food justice for babies we can’t get food justice for anybody,” she said. The absence of public breastfeeding in public in these neighborhoods becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. “People just haven’t seen it … and that’s so dangerous because it perpetuates the stereotype” that breastfeeding doesn’t happen in that community, Allers said.
She said black women who learn more about the health benefits of breastfeeding, and see images of women who look like them who are breastfeeding, can be convinced to try it themselves. But this message also needs to reach their healthcare providers, family members and social groups. “We want to return breastfeeding to a communal status,” Allers said.
This year, the State Department of Health and New Jersey Hospital Association worked together on a guide, Healthy Beginnings NJ, which provides hospitals with strategies for encouraging mothers to breastfeed. “This will really help our hospitals collectively as a group move forward,” O’Dowd said.