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The Benefits Of Breastfeeding For Infants And Mothers


Aired 8/19/10

There are many health benefits from breastfeeding for infants and mothers. We'll talk about efforts to increase breastfeeding rates in California.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Health officials have been touting the benefits of breastfeeding for many years, and their message seems to have gotten through to some mothers. But moms from lower income groups, moms who have to get back to work pretty quickly after their babies are born and moms with not that much support at home often don't start or don't continue breastfeeding for any length of time. The federal Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, program is sponsoring a number of forums around the state on how policy reforms can even the playing field, allowing more equity for all women who choose to breastfeed. Joining us with more on today’s forum at UCSD is my guest, KPBS health reporter, Kenny Goldberg. Kenny, good morning.

KENNY GOLDBERG (KPBS Health Reporter): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: You know, I want to invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you’re a mother of a young child, tell us what kind of breastfeeding support you received and how it helped in your efforts to breastfeed your child. You can give us a call at 1-888-895-5727 or, if you’d like, you can share your story online at So, Kenny, what are the health benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and their babies?

GOLDBERG: Well, there are a variety of benefits. Doctors say children that are breastfed have fewer ear infections, they have fewer stomach infections, they’re likelier to be healthier. They’re likely – they have less likelihood of being obese when they grow a little older. There are health benefits for the mother, too. There are studies that show that mothers who breastfeed are less likely to suffer from postpartum depression. There are some – there’s some evidence that suggests that mothers who breastfeed may have an easier chance of losing some of their weight that they gained during the pregnancy. So there are a whole host of nutritional and other health benefits for both the mother and the baby.

CAVANAUGH: Now it’s my understanding that California already is ahead of other states when it comes to policies about breastfeeding. Is that right?

GOLDBERG: Well, California was one of the first states to require employers to provide breaks to lactating mothers to pump breast milk, and they also have to provide a separate, private space where they can do that other than a bathroom stall or something. California’s one of the first states to do that. California’s one of the majority of states that allow women to breastfeed in public. And California also has a law that lactating mothers don’t have to do jury duty for the first year.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, I see. Okay. So in taking advantage of some of these policy reforms and laws that California has, what percentage of mothers breastfeed their infants here in San Diego County?

GOLDBERG: Well, they have a statewide study that takes a look at the percentage of mothers who exclusively breastfeed in the hospital after they’ve delivered, and in San Diego County the rate is 59%. Now that sounds pretty high—it’s higher than the statewide average—but we find that African-American women are in the 43% range and statewide African-American women, only a third breastfeed exclusively in the hospital, so that’s pretty low.

CAVANAUGH: Now why don’t more women breastfeed for a longer period of time?

GOLDBERG: I think that’s the million dollar question. I think the formula lobby is pretty powerful. They spend a lot of money to try to convince women to formula feed their babies. I think, frankly, some doctors, obstetricians and even pediatricians, aren’t that aggressive about encouraging new mothers to breastfeed. They’re more accommodating. They say, well, whatever you want to do is fine. But there’s so many advantages to breastfeeding that it really shouldn’t even be a question. I think that there must be some cultural elements there, too, because we find low income mothers tend to breastfeed less, so do African-American women and Latino women. So there’s a lot of factors involved.

CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls if you’d like to join the conversation and tell us if you have a story about efforts to breastfeed your child, perhaps some impediments you found to that in your workplace or even at home. 1-888-895-5727. You know, I’m wondering, Kenny, how long do health experts suggest that infants be breastfed?

GOLDBERG: They say six months, exclusively breastfed. They don’t – In other words, babies don’t need any supplemental cereal or formula at all. They say at least six months, that’s the goal.

CAVANAUGH: I see. And so I know that there is an international effort to get more hospitals to encourage breastfeeding. What is this initiative about? And what’s going on here in our local hospitals?

GOLDBERG: It was something started from – by UNICEF. It’s called baby friendly hospitals. And it’s a list of 10 different policies that hospitals need to comply with, including having a written breastfeeding policy that is communicated to all healthcare staff, of rooming babies with their mothers 24 hours a day instead of taking them over to a maternity section and having to bring them in and out of the mother’s room and that kind of thing. They have to have a lactation consultant there at all times. They’re not supposed to hand out formula to mothers, that kind of thing. There are two hospitals in San Diego County that have gotten that baby friendly certification: UCSD Medical Center and Scripps Hospital Encinitas. A few others are supposed to be working on their certification but there are fewer than 100 hospitals nationwide that have been designated as baby friendly.

CAVANAUGH: As I say, we’re inviting you to join the conversation at 1-888-895-5727. And right now we have a caller. Rita is on the line from San Diego. Good morning, Rita. Welcome to These Days.

RITA (Caller, San Diego): Thank you. I’m a physician assistant for a OB-GYN office, a private practice, and I’ve been doing this for 10 years. And it has been a real struggle to get women, especially of minority, to breastfeed. But I’ve found that since WIC changed, I believe, their policy changed in the past year or so, where they don’t provide formula to women in the first month, and since that changed I have had a huge surge in numbers of breastfeeding women. I’m really happy to hear that. Is that true? Have you found that to be the case that they did change the policy?

CAVANAUGH: We don’t have a doctor here. We have a health reporter so I don’t think that we can answer that question, Rita, but let me ask you a question. When you dealt with women, with new mothers, what reasons did they give you for not wanting to breastfeed?

RITA: I would say the number one reason is it was too hard.


RITA: And so I tried to talk to them throughout the pregnancy about how it might be difficult and how it takes time but it takes 100% commitment and how good it is for the baby and for mom. And although I have been doing this for years, I’ve found that only in the past couple of years that things have really started to change and much more women, especially younger women, are starting to breastfeed, and for longer.

CAVANAUGH: Now, is – I must – It must be even harder if somebody doesn’t have a lot of support at home, right?

RITA: That is true, and for the African-American population, for those women that I see, their moms didn’t do it, their sisters or friends haven’t done it, so there’s not much support. And they’re the first ones, a lot of times, so any time I do find that a sister or a friend has done it, they will do it as well.

CAVANAUGH: But anecdotally you’re finding more people, more young mothers, are getting onto this because of a change in policy from WIC.

RITA: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Well, thank you for your call. I appreciate it. Maria’s calling us from San Clemente. Good morning, Maria, and welcome to These Days.

MARIA (Caller, San Clemente): Good morning. I just wanted to say I nursed all three of my children, my first one for 16 months and my twins for 14 months. And I think the most important factor in being successful at nursing is the support you get from your spouse and from your family. And I just know I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t receive that help from my husband, in particular.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you. Thank you very much for your call. Let’s go right to Mirvette, Mirvette from Normal Heights. Good morning, Mirvette. Welcome to These Days.

MIRVETTE (Caller, Normal Heights): Good morning. Thank you. I, too, actually had a lot of support while – and I’m, I guess, as a minority, being of European descent and also just 25 years old. And the support is a big factor that plays into it, not only from your family but also from your community as a whole. And being also a student, I didn’t quite have that much support while attending school, and that’s something that I think is also a reason why young mothers, such as myself, have an issue with breastfeeding for longer periods of time. But WIC has proven to help.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you. Thank you for your call. And, Kenny, I want to go back to you for a minute because I – We’re talking about this today because UCSD is hosting a forum about policy reforms that could actually encourage more women to breastfeed. What policies do advocates say would encourage breastfeeding?

GOLDBERG: Well, one policy that advocates say would really encourage it is to give women more maternity leave. Many women – I mean, what is a family leave? Is it – it’s less than three months, I think, and most maternity leave, I don’t think, is much longer than that. In Europe, for example, they routinely give mothers a year. And that’s one major factor. We already have laws in place that require employers to provide accommodations to lactating mothers, as we know, but a lot of employers evidently don’t know the law and I think some women are unfamiliar with it, too.

CAVANAUGH: And I would imagine in this job climate it’s not the kind of thing that anybody would really want to press right now.

GOLDBERG: That’s right.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Cindy is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Cindy. Welcome to These Days. Hi, Cindy, are you there? Stephanie, good morning. Are you there?

STEPHANIE (Caller): Yes, hi.


STEPHANIE: This is Stephanie.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, hi, Stephanie. Welcome to These Days.

STEPHANIE: Thanks. I just wanted to say that I was a breastfeeding mother. I breastfed both my daughters. And I think one of the reasons that some women don’t do it who might really want to is because it’s really not as easy as people think it is. It’s really difficult if – at first. It’s not as naturally easy as people think. You can’t just pop the baby on there. And it hurts, it’s painful. It can be messy. And when you’re exhausted and the baby is screaming, it’s very easy if you have formula in the house to just stick a bottle in their mouths and then everybody feels better, you know what I’m saying?

CAVANAUGH: I understand. Now what did you do to get yourself to go the last mile and actually do this?

STEPHANIE: Well, I was lucky in that I had, as the other caller mentioned, a good support system. My husband was very committed to breastfeeding if we could. And even though they gave us formula at the hospital, he threw it out before we got home because he didn’t want us to be tempted and, believe me, at four in the morning on the third day when the baby was screaming, I would’ve been tempted. So we were very lucky to be able to support each other with that and then I, you know, read a lot of books, asked a lot of friends, and realized that I was doing just one tiny thing wrong. And once I fixed that, we were fine. But, you know, you don’t – it doesn’t come as naturally as people think.

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely, which is why they’re having this forum, and why it’s so important to have the support at the very beginning at a hospital so that women, if they choose to breastfeed—because we must remember this is still a choice—if they choose to breastfeed, they do it properly and it’s not as hard as the problems Stephanie had.

GOLDBERG: That’s right. And I think what we’re hearing from the callers, and as you said, it’s support. I mean, they need – women need support from the very beginning. They need support even prenatally from their pediatricians, from their obstetricians, to sort of make this the norm because, again, when you think about it, well, almost 6 out of 10 women in San Diego County breastfeed exclusively when they’re in hospital. Well, that means 4 out of 10 don’t, and then the rate always falls off postpartum and post-hospital. And so it’s really a question of what can we do as a society to increase that rate and prolong it for at least six months.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you, Kenny. Thanks for talking about this important subject. I want to let our listeners know that we are going to do another segment, a longer segment, on this topic, so send us your comments and your questions to let us know what you’d like to talk about when it comes to the issue of breastfeeding. You can go online, You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS. Stay with us for hour two, coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.

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Avatar for user 'Mambo32'

Mambo32 | August 19, 2010 at 10:08 a.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

Thank you for discussing this important topic. I'd like to hear a discussion on the difference between professional medical opinions (pro-breastfeeding) and the general public's perception of breastfeeding (in some cases anti-breastfeeding). I am a breastfeeding mother, my infant is just two months old, and have experienced negative messages from the public. I was making a reservation at a local restaurant and when I told them I would be bringing my infant, the owner told me they didn't want women breastfeeding in their restaurant. I have also had many people who didn't breastfeed ask me: "What's so difficult about it? Why do you need to go to support groups, etc?" I feel there is a real divide between the Medical community's support and the general public's lack of understanding and support.

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Avatar for user 'strauger'

strauger | August 19, 2010 at 10:32 a.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

Thank you for talking about this important topic. In future discussions of breast feeding I would like you to consider that some women for some natural reasons are unable to really breast feed for a prolonged rperiod. They simply do not get the required output of breast milk. I have two children who I tried very hard to nurse. I talked with many lactation consultants and kept trying until I was forced to give them formula due to excessive weight loss and jaundice. It seems that it is implied that every woman can do this if she just tries. And those who do not breast feed do this by choice. For some women, it just doesn't work no matter what. I continued to try and supplement for 3 months as the pediatrician had recommeded. I think my daughter was getting like 10% from me and 90% from the formula. Of course the necessary supplementation itself was cutting down production. There is a tremendous amount of guilt and a feeling of failure for those of us who are unsuccessful because of the pressure from everyone to breast feed because this is the best thing for your child. It would be nice if you talked about these women!

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Avatar for user 'tybye'

tybye | August 19, 2010 at 10:58 a.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

Please KPBS read this article. I think that one issue that must be discussed are the politics behind formula as well. There are lobbyists in Washington that push for Formula. It is a multi billion $$$ business. And the tax payers pay for over 1/2 of all formula sold in the USA! (WIC) If more of that money were diverted to Breast Feeding support we as a country would be happier and healthier, but unfortunately there are no monetary gains for big business if more women start Breast Feeding.
Also more support and better laws for Breast Feeding mothers.
Link to read:
*Medically only a VERY small percentage of women can not breastfed!
*The majority of women who do not feed chose not too.
*Society needs to stop making the breast only about sex.
*Support new mothers need more support!!!!
Yes I am a proud mother of a exclusively breastfed child!!!! He is two and still feeding! :)
I went back to work after baby was 5 months old! It was hard but I pumped until he was about 1 year 2 months. At that point I stopped pumping and he only nurses in the morning and at night! :)
So it is possible! It is!

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Avatar for user 'tybye'

tybye | August 19, 2010 at 11:05 a.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

The link I want to share is not working.
You can go here and put baby formula in the search area and find it!
Thanks sorry for all the posts!

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Avatar for user 'GoMoms'

GoMoms | August 19, 2010 at 2:05 p.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

This always brings out an emotional response. I am with stauger. My milk never came in despite the hard work of me, baby, nurses, lactation consultants, supplements, you name it. The guilt was really tough. I have to say that my son is strong and healthy and formula made that possible. Kenny should really research the facts about the benefits of breast feeding. The benefits are often over stated or at a minimum hard to verify to due to the challenges of researching this topic.

I totally support stronger family leave policies to support breastfeeding and family bonding, but I think we should have a more honest discussion about the verifiable benefits of breastfeeding. But be aware that the haters are out of control on this topic

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Avatar for user 'GoMoms'

GoMoms | August 19, 2010 at 2:07 p.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

Check out Hannah Rosen's article about this, that will get a conversation going

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Avatar for user 'sun_flower16'

sun_flower16 | August 19, 2010 at 9:22 p.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

It would be great if KPBS could talk about ways to better educate women about breastfeeding -- education on the benefits of breastfeeding do not reach all populations. How can we reach these populations that do not have access to the literature, blogs, etc. due to cultural practices and norms. The program should include information about what resources are available in San Diego for this purpose and how to access them.

We need to do a better job informing women about the benefits for mother and child. However, the education cannot stop there. Women must be educated about the difficulties that often accompany breastfeeding and how to overcome them. Women often stop breastfeeding because it is hard, especially at the beginning! In our society, as new mothers, we are quite isolated. We are not surrounded by a "community" that supports mothers. Mothers are expected to do so much and the way our society is set up we do not have a great deal of support from our communities.

Formula is a great option and we are so fortunate that it is readily available with a clean water supply in our country. However, women often use formula not because of medical necessity but because of lack of support publicly and in their own household. We need a cultural change in our country in order to experience the public health benefits of breastfeeding that have been in the news of late. How can we work on this cultural change in San Diego?

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Avatar for user 'indigopromotes'

indigopromotes | November 21, 2010 at 12:06 p.m. ― 6 years, 4 months ago

I am a Mother of two children, who both breastfed for an extended time.
I was greatly helped and supported by the active group in San Diego,
La Leche League International.

Led by trained and experienced volunteer mother leaders,
this group has a series of four outstanding sessions that rotate
over a course of 4 months, including topics of:
the Expecting Mother, Home with your Newborn, Introduction of Solid Foods, Weaning, and more.
A lending library of interesting and useful books is available.

The attendance is free, but membership is encouraged.

Their website lists many resources, including online and toll-free telephone help, local groups, books, a monthly magazine, and education.

They also offer excellent family-friendly Conferences over a weekend;
Next one will be in May 2011, in Southern California.
Topics include: Breastfeeding, Nutrition, Parenting, Health, Psychology,
and more. Many famous speakers present, and Continuing Education units can be secured for some lectures.

I attended many years of the La Leche League Conferences and learned so much, with my child in a sling with me!

Additional factors that contributed to my breastfeeding successes:
outstanding nutrition for the mother; proper rest during day and evening;
close proximity of child to mother; and having mother friends with children the same age as mine.

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