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* Poor women receive less support for breastfeeding

September 9, 2008 | 11:02 am

Infant1

Breastfeeding has substantial benefits for infants in terms of promoting healthy weight, reducing infections and boosting cognitive ability. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life, and organizations such as the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have urged hospitals to implement policies to promote the exclusive breastfeeding of newborns.

In California, however, there is wide disparity in how well hospitals support breastfeeding, according to a new report from the UC Davis Human Lactation Center and the California WIC Assn. The report rates nearly every hospital in the state on two measures: the average number of women breastfeeding their newborns while in the hospital and the average number of women who are breastfeeding exclusively (that is, with no supplemental formula or other fluid). Breastfeeding exclusively in the hospital creates the best chance for sustained breastfeeding at home. The report found a concentration of low-performing hospitals in Southern California compared with elsewhere in the state and showed the breastfeeding gap is greatest at hospitals serving ethnic, low-income women and babies.

"Breastfeeding should not depend on where you are born," says Karen Farley of the California WIC Assn. "Our report shows that virtually all of the hospitals with the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates reported here serve low-income and minority women -- the very population most affected by poor health outcomes such as diabetes and obesity."

Overall, 87% of new mothers in California start breastfeeding during the hospital stay but less than half of them leave the hospital exclusively breastfeeding. The report cites Coastal Communities Hospital, in Orange County, where 88.4% of women initiate breastfeeding at birth but only 2.4% leave the hospital breastfeeding exclusively. Other low-performing hospitals on the exclusive breastfeeding measure include: Pacific Alliance Medical Center in L.A., Pacifica Hospital of the Valley, Bellflower Medical Center, Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center, Valley Presbyterian Hospital, Beverly Hospital in Montebello, St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park and California Hospital Medical Center. All those hospitals are in Los Angeles County.

Hospitals that performed well have policies in place to support breastfeeding women, according to the report. For example, the staff is trained to help nursing mothers, the hospitals prohibit free formula samples and mother and baby are allowed to stay together to promote nursing. High-performing hospitals in Southern California include St. John's Hospital, which has a breastfeeding exclusively rate of 68.7%; St. Joseph's Hospital in Orange, at 63.8%; St. John's Pleasant Valley Hospital in Ventura County, at 72.4%; and Rancho Springs Medical Center/Tenet in Riverside County at 71.6%.

The full report and county by county statistics can be accessed at the WIC website.

- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times

* Updating this blog item: Under the state labor code, employers are required to provide a break time and space to accommodate an employee who wants to express breast milk for her baby. A training session entitled "The Business Case for Breastfeeding" will be held on Sept. 22 in Los Angeles to help employers establish worksite lactation programs. The training session is offered by the Breastfeeding Task Force of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Collaborative for Healthy Active Children.

For more information on the training session, see this website at the L.A. County Public Health Department. You can find information on breastfeeding in the workplace at this site.

-- Shari Roan

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