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State Issues Plan to Improve Breastfeeding Rates

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recently released a plan to boost breastfeeding rates in the state. Breastfeeding decreases infant mortality rates and reduces ailments like diabetes, leukemia, allergies, asthma, ear infections and obesity. Mothers who nurse tend to experience less post-partum depression, breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease.

The new state plan includes work to get more minorities and teen mothers to nurse their babies.

State breastfeeding coordinator Marji Cyrul says that in Michigan, 84.1-percent of mothers report that they breastfed their infant at least once. That rate exceeds the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2020 goal of just under 82-percent.

However, rates aren't as high among minority and teen mothers.

Cyrul thinks those lower rates reflect systemic conditions in our society. "Women of color, unfortunately, are more likely to live in under-resourced neighborhoods," she explains, "where they lack breastfeeding supports such as baby-friendly hospitals, support groups, and lactation consultants." Addressing those disparities means looking beyond the individual to social conditions and institutional policies and practices.

To reach these populations, the state has started a peer counselor program to reach women of color. Local breastfeeding coalitions are also doing a lot in this regard.

Cyrul says the top reason Michigan women stop breastfeeding is the idea that they aren't producing enough milk. "We see this regardless of age or race or socio-economic status," she concludes. "Physiologically, only about 5-percent of mothers don't make enough milk to feed their babies, and yet something like 55-percent of moms think that that's truth."

The state is working to change misconceptions about an infant's normal intake, sleeping patterns and what a crying baby is trying to tell you.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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