Breastfeeding has health benefits for both baby and mother and the longer a baby is breastfed, the greater the benefits. Women who don’t breastfeed are at higher risk of developing high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and ovarian cancer as they age. Infants who are fed breastmilk are at lower risk of developing ear infections, diarrhea, asthma, and obesity. More information about the benefits of breastfeeding are provided by the Centers for Disease Control at this link.
Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said that infants benefit from breastmilk through the thousands of components it contains that interact to protect them from infections and to grow and develop optimally. For women, starting from the earliest stages of pregnancy, their bodies prepare for lactation. Breastfeeding is then part of the way women adapt to post-delivery.
For example, breastfeeding helps the uterus to shrink down to a pre-pregnancy size and reduces postpartum bleeding. It also uses fat stores that were added during pregnancy. It is for this reason that people refer to breastfeeding as part of the 4th trimester, Dr. Bogen said.
“The health impacts of breastfeeding for both women and infants are undeniable,” Dr. Bogen said. “But remember, although breastfeeding is natural and optimal – it is not always easy. Women and families need support to breastfeed successfully – from health professionals, family, friends and community.”
August is National Breastfeeding Month and the theme is Many Voices United. According to the United States Breastfeeding Committee, “Now, more than ever, we must come together to identify and implement the policy and systems changes that are needed to ensure that every family that chooses breastfeeding has the support and resources they need to succeed.”
Breastfeeding initiation rates have risen slowly and steadily for the past 20 years in the United States. As of 2017, 84% of all infants born in the U.S. received at least one breastmilk feeding. That was up from 76% in 2010.
However, the rates of exclusive breastfeeding and the duration of breastfeeding lag behind the Healthy People 2020 goals set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2017, 58% of infants were still being fed any breastmilk at age 6 months and only 35% at 12 months.
With supportive employers and communities, women are more likely to reach their own breastfeeding goals and the national recommendations of exclusive breastmilk feeding for the first 6 months of life and continuation of breastfeeding with the addition of solid food until at least 12 months of age.
The Allegheny County Breastfeeding Coalition is working to do this by encouraging breastfeeding friendly workplaces.
Allegheny County Breastfeeding Coalition
In celebration of National Breastfeeding Month, the Allegheny County Breastfeeding Coalition (ACBC) in collaboration with the Allegheny County Health Department’s Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) accepted nominations for the 24th Breastfeeding Friendly Place Award. The ACBC makes a conscientious effort to recognize workplaces, public places and other sites away from home that put forth an effort in accommodating breastfeeding. The ACBC and WIC announced the United Way of Southwestern PA, a fellow Live Well Allegheny Workplace, as the winner of the 2020 Breastfeeding Friendly Place Award.
“We’re honored to be recognized by Allegheny County Health Department as both a Live Well Allegheny Workplace and a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace,” said Bobbi Watt Geer, president and CEO, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. “Every day, we’re on the front lines helping people throughout our region live fully. Though the coronavirus pandemic has hit our community hard, especially struggling families, we know there’s power in doing everything we can to practice self-care. And we know that starts with us. I’m proud to be part of the United Way team that prioritizes health and well-being, inside and outside our offices.”
The United Way strives to create a breastfeeding friendly environment for staff when they return to work. The organization provides a comfortable and welcoming space for breastfeeding mothers, and its policies include providing pumping time for mothers returning to work and supporting a lactation room that provides privacy and refrigeration spaces. The entire organization is very supportive of their coworkers breastfeeding journeys.
According to Dannai Wilson, Allegheny County Health Department Maternal and Child Health Program Manager, “It is important for workplaces to support breastfeeding as it has shown to be a return on their investment with reductions in healthcare costs, employee absenteeism, turnover, increased retention, morale, and loyalty.”
Research has proven that supportive employers and communities improve the odds of families reaching their breastfeeding goals and the national recommendations of exclusive breastmilk feeding for the first 6 months of life and continuation of breastfeeding with the addition of solid food until at least 12 months of age. The ACBC is dedicated to supporting and initiating efforts to normalize breastfeeding to improve health outcomes of families in every community across Allegheny County. If you are interested in working with the ACBC or the Breastfeeding Friendly Place Award, please contact Sharon Leavitt.
The ACBC will be accepting nominations for the 25th Breastfeeding Friendly Place Award starting in March of 2021.
Support for Moms and Babies
Are you a mom looking for breastfeeding support? There are a lot of resources available.
- If you have questions about breastfeeding or need help, please call the Breastfeeding Help Line at 412-687-2243 that is managed by the Allegheny County Health Department, Maternal and Child Health Program. The helpline is available Monday-Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. All calls are referred to registered nurses, certified lactation counselors, and an internationally board-certified lactation consultant. Staff will help you start breastfeeding; answer questions and problem solve with you so that you can continue breastfeeding your baby.
- The Healthy Start Center for Urban Breastfeeding offers breastfeeding support provided by Certified Lactation Consultants (CLCs) to help mothers achieve their breastfeeding goals. They also have events and trainings. More information is available at their web site.
- The Pittsburgh Black Breastfeeding Circle has organized meetups for moms of African descent to provide support for breastfeeding. More information is available at their web site.