{“Breastfeeding Blueprint” reveals its findings — and next steps} Client: Milk for Thought

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The Illinois Department of Human Services joined forces with HealthConnect One and the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health to debut a 5-year plan that will help create more supportive environments for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, hospitals, from insurers, and more.

Although data from the “Illinois Breastfeeding Blueprint” shows that almost 78 percent of Illinois mothers start breastfeeding (up 8 percent from 2000), the number drops to 47 percent after 12 weeks, with only half of those mothers breastfeeding exclusively. And there were significant disparities between various ethnic groups and income levels.

Milk for Thought chatted with HealthConnect One project manager Beth Pellettieri about the Illinois Breastfeeding Blueprint and the most surprising and validating findings from the report:

“The Blueprint looked at initiation, duration and exclusivity,” Pellettieri explains. “One of the key things for us was related to maternity-care practices data. The data shows that the first 48 hours has such an impact on the 6-week duration of breastfeeding [according to the Blueprint’s findings, women were most likely to stop breastfeeding during the first 6 weeks after the birth of their baby]. This is what breastfeeding advocates have known for a while, but seeing it in data gives us more power.”

Blueprint data also showed that rates of initiation for black women are still low and that black women were much less likely to start breastfeeding than other women in Illinois. “African-American women are not receiving the supportive breastfeeding practices that white or Hispanic women are,” says Pellettieri. “In fact, they are more likely to receive discouraging practices and less likely to receive supportive ones.”

Interestingly, when the study looked at the top reasons women gave for not breastfeeding, 75 percent of black women who didn’t breastfeed said it was because they didn’t like it, compared to 50 percent of white women and 30 percent of Hispanic women. (The other reasons included other children to care for, going back to work, and being sick and could not breastfeed.)

Clearly, access to peer counselors and lactation consultants, especially in low-income communities, must improve, as does acceptance and support in the workplace for breastfeeding moms.

As for next steps after the Blueprint’s findings, Pelletttieri says, “We have been working on some of the recommendations for the last 9 months, such as increasing the number of peer counselors. We will also work on more policy-focused items, such as increasing the number of Baby-Friendly hospitals. We have received funding to promote Baby-Friendly practices and provide support hospitals need to implement Baby-Friendly steps.”

She adds, “We want this to be a group effort. An implementation group meets at end of month to decide what prioritize, how we can be more strategic moving forward, as well as include all the amazing things people and advocates are already doing.”

The Breastfeeding Blueprint website is being finalized and will include action items, a media section, and ways individuals and organizations can create change in their communities. “Advocates will want to let us know what they’re already doing, and people who want to be part of developing benchmarks from the Blueprint can sign up. We already have a list of more than 240 people who are interested in the Blueprint project,” says Pellettieri.

“There has been phenomenal interest in the Blueprint project,” Pellettieri adds. “After the First Lady’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign and the Surgeon Generals’ ‘Call to Action,’ this is the follow-up that pulls it all together for Illinois. This is the local launch pad for making real change that everyone is ready for.”

{Read the “Illinois Breastfeeding Blueprint” here, or visit MilkforThought to share how you would like to get involved or what you’re already doing in your community to promote and support breastfeeding.}

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