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Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) > News Releases > Breast-Feeding Barriers Diminish Benefits to Babies

News Release

August 10, 2004


-- Undue fears about production of breast milk, possible conflicts with work or daily schedules and nursing in public deter mothers from breast-feeding — a practice that not only helps babies fight off illnesses but also lowers rates of certain breast and ovarian cancers.

Now a new picture of the impact those barriers have on breast-feeding has emerged as a result of a national survey announced this month that documents just how many mothers nurse and for how long.

Only 34 percent of Houston mothers breast-feed at least for the minimum recommended six months and their numbers decrease to 17 percent at 12 months, according to statistics compiled for the first time by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, 72 percent of Houston mothers have tried breast-feeding.

Houston breast-feeding rates mirror those for the entire state. The national average for mothers who exclusively breast-feed their babies for six months is 14 percent. August is World Breast-Feeding Month.

As breast-feeding coordinator in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program at the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, Judy Fraley encounters first hand many women’s lack of confidence when it comes to breast-feeding.

“Women worry that they will not be able to make enough milk or that they will be unsuccessful at breast-feeding just because they have heard of someone who was unable to breast-feed their baby,” Fraley said. “In fact, the majority of women can breast-feed. Even women who have had enhancement or reduction surgery can breast-feed.”

Babies may be fed nothing but breast milk for the first six months of life. Water, juice and other foods are generally unnecessary during that time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breast-feeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mother and baby desire. The World Health Organization recommends continued breast-feeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.

Breast milk is the healthiest food for an infant and changes to meet a baby’s nutritional needs. It contains antibodies to protect a baby from disease and helps prevent sudden infant death syndrome.

Research studies have shown breast-feeding increases a baby’s IQ, may improve vision and helps form healthy teeth and jaws. Breast-fed babies have fewer bouts of diarrhea, ear infections and respiratory infections. Nursing mothers also burn more calories, making it easier for them to return to their pre-pregnancy weight.
Fraley said some new moms unnecessarily fear a loss of freedom, many having the misconception that they will need to have their babies with them at all times if they start breast-feeding or that nursing will interfere with work or daily schedules. However, women can use a pump to store breast milk and take care of most of an infant’s nutritional needs.

“Moms can nurse prior to leaving work, pump at work if possible and arrange for a day care close enough for a lunch hour visit,” Fraley said. “If necessary, formula can be given when mom needs to be away.”

Nursing mothers can store fresh breast milk in the refrigerator for five days, in the freezer for three to four months and in deep freeze for six months.

For moms embarrassed to breast-feed in public or even around family and friends, Fraley suggests throwing a blanket over a shoulder, tucking an infant under a loose fitting shirt or unbuttoning one or two buttons on a dress or shirt. “Women can breast-feed discreetly,” she said. “You don’t have to remove any clothing.”
Prenatal education and early support provided by programs such as WIC help mothers overcome other breast-feeding barriers. The program provided nutritional education and nutritious foods to a record 77,380 people in 2003.

For more information about breast-feeding support or WIC, call 713.794.9090.