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HealthEast-Woodwinds, state see high breastfeeding rates

New federal data show more Minnesota mothers are breastfeeding their newborns and are breastfeeding for a longer period of time than in previous years.

According to new U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data, 90 percent of Minnesota mothers breastfeed their newborn, up from 84 percent in 2012. At HealthEast Clinic – Woodwinds in Woodbury, that number is even higher with 96.1 percent of women breastfeeding, according to HealthEast.

These rates make Minnesota the seventh highest breastfeeding state in the country and the fifth highest overall for women who breastfeed longer than six months, according to the CDC.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) points to research on breastfeeding indicating overall health benefits for children, such as a decrease in sudden infant death syndrome and overall developmental health improvements.

"Breastfeeding helps to improve the lifelong health of both babies and mothers," said Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger in a recent statement. "Supporting breastfeeding is one of the best public health investments we can make to improve health and well-being in Minnesota."

Minnesota has several laws to support mothers, including allowing them to breastfeed in public and requirements for employers to give women time and spaces for breastfeeding.

The state was one of the first to pass laws allowing public breastfeeding.

"We know that with 90 percent of new mothers starting breastfeeding, it obviously shows that the vast majority of mothers in Minnesota want to breastfeed," said Linda Dech, a WIC program coordinator at MDH. "But we see many mothers end before they reach their goal due to things that happen in their lives and where they live."

Health officials are now turning their attention toward continuing to encourage hospitals that promote breastfeeding.

Dech points to a recent public health campaign focused on encouraging hospitals to stop handing out free formula.

She said when some women begin using formula, they sometimes aren't able to produce enough milk and oftentimes abandon breastfeeding altogether. "Once you start down that path, it's very difficult then to continue," she said.

Overall, nine hospitals have been certified as "baby-friendly," a designation hospitals receive for not handing out free formula, as well as other factors. Only nine hospitals statewide have achieved that designation.

HealthEast was the first health system in the country to earn a "baby-friendly" designation for all of its hospitals and has been encouraging mothers to breastfeed for some time.

Jeanette Schwartz, a maternity director for HealthEast, said she feels overall breastfeeding rates at Woodwinds higher than average numbers are mainly because of culture and education on the benefits of breastfeeding over formula.

"We're not saying that formula is bad, it's just that breastfeeding is better," she said.

Still, women who return to work face difficulties breastfeeding, Schwartz said. She speculates work culture and socioeconomic status may be factors for women who stop breastfeeding after they start.

According to MDH, Women enrolled in the Minnesota WIC program, as well as minority groups, trail behind state averages.

In light of these differences, Schwartz said HealthEast has focused on providing more peer counseling and other forms of support with the goal of getting more women to begin and continue breastfeeding.

The health system has also added Hmong-speaking councilors after noting information showing women in the Asian community tend to breastfeed less than their white counterparts.

She also recommends new mothers to find support through their family and peers with questions about navigating work and life while continuing to breastfeed.

"The good news is there are other people around who can help support women in their breastfeeding," Schwartz said. "We're coming around, and we're finally getting close to where it's the norm. I think we're at that tipping point, and it's really fun to see that."