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DHS news release

March 28, 2007

General contact:  Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282

Program contacts: Kristin Sassee, Public Health, 971-673-0070; Amy Sevdy, TANF, 503-945-7017

DHS project promotes self-sufficiency and breastfeeding


Helping women who return to work under the state’s self-sufficiency program continue breastfeeding is the goal of a new Oregon Department of Human Services project.


Breastfeeding provides the best start for babies. Yet less than 27 percent of Oregon mothers are able to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that babies should be fed only breast milk for the first six months of life. It is even more difficult for mothers in the self-sufficiency program.


“Returning to work or school can be a barrier for any mother who wants to breastfeed her baby,” said Katherine Bradley, administrator of family health programs in the DHS Public Health Division. “It’s particularly problematic for low-income women who usually have less control over their work environment.”


Bradley said the project is the only one of its kind in the nation. It brings together two DHS programs: Nutrition and Screening for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Both serve low-income women; one provides nutrition education and breastfeeding promotion, the other job counseling and temporary financial assistance to clients working to become self-sufficient. 


“All babies deserve the best start possible,” Bradley said. “This project teaches TANF caseworkers and clients about the importance of breastmilk, and that mothers can keep breastfeeding when they return to work.”


A boost from the DHS Physical Activity and Nutrition program (PAN), which supports breastfeeding, helped get the project under way. PAN provided federal funds for independent focus groups with TANF staff and clients to gather information to help design the project.


WIC developed a train-the-trainer course for TANF caseworkers and an educational brochure for their clients. Caseworkers learned how to provide clients with information to help them request breastfeeding support from their employer, including a private place to pump milk. TANF also implemented a breastfeeding policy that clarifies support and accommodation for breastfeeding mothers during orientation, appointments and training.


Bradley said TANF caseworkers, both male and female, report they feel more comfortable talking to clients about breastfeeding as a result of the training. 


Research shows babies who are not breastfed have more health problems such as higher rates of asthma, infections, allergies, sudden infant death syndrome and childhood obesity. Mothers who breastfeed lose pregnancy weight gain more quickly and have lower rates of breast cancer.


“Workplace support is essential for all children to have the health protection breastfeeding offers,” Bradley said. “Nursing mothers miss less work because their children are healthier. Employers benefit from reduced absenteeism and lower health care costs, including those paid for by state Medicaid.”

By the end of the year, all TANF caseworkers statewide will have received the training, and educational brochures will be distributed to each DHS district. Those involved in the project are committed to its long-term continuation, are encouraging collaboration at the local level and are looking at making additional improvements over time, Bradley said.


More information about WIC is on the Web at www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/wic/index.shtml and more information about TANF is at www.oregon.gov/DHS/assistance/cash/tanf.shtml.