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DHS news release

August 23, 2004

Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180

Technical contact: Kristin Sasseen (253) 732-8418

Federal study ranks Oregon at the top in breastfeeding rates

A new federal study shows Oregon is a leader in breastfeeding rates, according to public health officials in the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS).

The survey, conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that Oregon was the only state to have more than 25 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeeding their infants at 6 months of age.

Since 1997, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended exclusive breastfeeding, without supplementation of food or formula for the first six months of life, because breast milk is the ideal nutrition for optimal growth and development.

"This is positive health news for Oregon," said Donalda Dodson, DHS manager of child and family health programs. "While any breastfeeding is beneficial, research shows that exclusive breastfeeding reaps the greatest benefits both in childhood and for the future."

Breastfeeding is an important factor in preventing childhood obesity, reducing chronic disease and reducing infant mortality. Breast milk contains more than 50 known immunological factors that can protect infants from bacterial and viral infections. Children who are not exclusively breastfed for six months are at increased risk for recurrent ear infections, severe diarrhea and hospitalization for respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, according to Dodson.

The survey also shows Oregon to be one of only six states to achieve all three national Healthy People 2010 health objectives which are based on "any" breastfeeding. The objectives are:

  • Achieve a 75 percent rate of new mothers who initiate breastfeeding at their baby's birth. Oregon and Washington are tied at 88 percent and highest in the nation.
  • Achieve a 50 percent rate of mothers breastfeeding at six months. Oregon's rate is 54 percent, second highest in the nation.
  • Achieve a 25 percent rate of mothers breastfeeding at 12 months. Oregon is at 28 percent, fourth in the nation.
Dodson says Oregon's success can be attributed to a four-pronged approach:

  1. Increasing public awareness,
  2. Educating the mother and her family, including fathers and grandparents,
  3. Working with the medical community,
  4. Educating employers on the importance of supporting breastfeeding mothers.
"In 1997 we began focusing our efforts on helping women breastfeed longer after we found that most women were stopping within four to 12 weeks," Dodson said. "Along the way, many partners have been involved, including county health departments, the medical community, hospitals, legislators, employers and community organizations."

While the findings are good news, Oregon still has plenty of room for improvement, Dodson said. "More than two-thirds of nursing mothers still do not exclusively breastfeed for the recommended six months," she said.

Many women face the barrier of returning to work by the time their child is 3 months old and this often signals the end of breastfeeding. In 2000, the federally funded Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program began providing breast pumps to mothers returning to work or school; since then WIC has distributed more than 25,000 statewide. Additionally, many Oregon employers support breastfeeding mothers through workplace accommodations. DHS is working to encourage others to do likewise through its breastfeeding friendly employer program, according to Dodson.

"It's not enough to educate mothers on the importance of breastfeeding," Dodson emphasizes. "The entire community needs to support their choice, so they are not faced with one barrier after another as they try to do what is best for their child."

Additional data can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, and at the DHS public health Web site. To learn more, see this document about DHS efforts to increase breastfeeding, or the DHS public health breastfeeding Web site.