Oklahoma trails in breast-feeding stats

Monday, August 1st 2005, 5:01 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Preconceptions about breast-feeding and barriers to continuing after a return to work or school are the main reasons Oklahoma mothers don't try it even once, a newly released study by the Oklahoma State Health Department shows.

A random statewide survey found that 68.9 percent of mothers between 2000 and 2002 tried breast-feeding. That's up from 1999, when 66.5 percent of Oklahoma mothers said they started breast-feeding.

Nationally, 70.9 percent of mothers tried it, according to a survey in 2003, the closest year available for comparison.

Mothers who didn't attempt breast-feeding were most likely to say they "didn't like it" (43.5 percent), followed by a return to work or school (29.5 percent) or having other children to care for (27.4 percent), the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System survey found.

"A lot of people don't think they can do it," said Carol Monlux, a certified lactation consultant at St. John Medical Center in Tulsa, on Monday. "Or maybe they don't have a support system in place."

With most women making their decision to breast- or formula-feed months before their babies arrived, health officials said the survey shows that expectant parents and communities need to be better educated about the benefits of nursing.

"If you can get by with a few days of pain, it's so much better for your baby," said Jill Nobles-Botkin, a certified nurse midwife with health department's Maternal and Child Health Service.

The U.S. Surgeon General recommends babies be fed only breast milk for the first six months. Studies show that breast-fed babies are less likely to develop ear infections, respiratory illnesses and diarrhea. They may also be less likely to be obese during childhood.

Nursing mothers benefit from the release of relaxation-inducing oxytocin and may be less at risk for developing breast and ovarian cancers, state and national health officials say.

The study found that Hispanic mothers were more likely to nurse their infants than the state's non-Hispanics, 75.9 percent compared with 68.3 percent. Whites nursed at higher rates than other racial groups, 71.7 percent compared with 51.1 percent of African Americans and 60.9 percent of Native Americans.

Mothers under age 20 and those who hadn't completed high school were less likely to begin breast-feeding.

The study concluded that women who work full-time may not start breast-feeding because of a lack of workplace support, limited sanitary or comfortable places to pump milk and few break times in which to pump.

Employers might be more accommodating if they understood that breast-fed babies tend to get sick less often, said Nancy Bacon, a nutrition consultant for the state agency.

"Their employees are going to miss work less often" to care for a sick child, she said.

Tulsa-based Williams Cos. has tried to accommodate its working mothers by providing two lactation rooms in the company's medical clinic as well as other special arrangements, said spokesman Kelly Swan. About 60 to 70 women a year from Williams and other businesses located in its company headquarters use the private rooms.

St. John provides its working mothers with a nursing room complete with breast pumps, television and a refrigerator with secure access for milk storage, said Monlux. But she knows of plenty of other moms who end up pumping milk in a workplace bathroom.

She encourages women to take three months maternity leave if they can, so that their milk supply is well established when they return to work. While breast-feeding is time consuming at first, older babies can be weaned to the point of nursing only in the morning and evening, she said.

Breast-feeding is a learned skill for mother and baby and takes support by the mother's family and friends, Monlux said. Some women may be put off after hearing about another mother's bad experience.

"And I think sometimes it's because of our society. Women's breasts are more sexual objects, and I think a lot of people look at it that way," she said.

A second part of the Oklahoma survey due to be released next month will look at how long Oklahoma mothers continue breast-feeding.