August 6, 2009 — To commemorate World Breastfeeding Week — a worldwide acknowledgement of the importance of breastfeeding for mothers and children — New York City has launched a new effort to support it. Starting this week, mothers in need of breastfeeding help can call 311 for immediate access to the National Breastfeeding Helpline. The live phone service, operated by the National Women's Health Information Center of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides breastfeeding assistance from trained peer counselors.
"Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of a baby's life," said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. "Breastfed babies are less likely than formula fed babies to get infections and sickness, and less likely to develop health problems such as asthma, diabetes, obesity and SIDS [sudden infant death syndrome]. To breastfeed successfully, women need support from their doctors, hospitals, families and communities. This helpline will provide support to mothers who want to breastfeed but need some help in overcoming challenges."
Mothers benefit from breastfeeding too, as it helps the body recover from pregnancy and labor and lowers a mother's risk for developing diabetes, ovarian cancer and some forms of breast cancer. But while the benefits for both mother and child are clear, breastfeeding is not always easy. More than 87% of New York City women initiate breastfeeding after giving birth, according to a 2007 Health Department survey, exceeding the national Healthy People 2010 breastfeeding goal of 75%. But these levels drop off quickly. Only 67% of mothers continue breastfeeding for eight weeks, and only 32% say they breastfeed exclusively for that long. Many women say they worry that they're producing too little milk, or that breast milk doesn't satisfy their baby's hunger. Others say they stop because they need to return to work.
Most women want to breastfeed, and most can succeed at it. But studies suggest that support from family, friends, health care providers and employers can make a big difference in how long mothers breastfeed and whether they breastfeed exclusively. In New York State, employers must provide time and a space to pump breast milk. Both New York City and New York State have laws that protect a woman's right to breastfeed in public.
Health Department breastfeeding education programs
As part of its continued effort to promote breastfeeding, the Health Department works with pediatricians, obstetricians and other health providers who care for pregnant women and children in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty and illness — specifically the South Bronx, North and Central Brooklyn and East and Central Harlem. Among the materials distributed to health care providers are laminated breastfeeding coaching cards for new mothers to take to the hospital before delivery.
The Health Department recently produced a comprehensive resource for breastfeeding mothers ("The New York City Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding") as well as a research report titled "Breastfeeding or formula? Women's infant feeding experiences in North and Central Brooklyn." Both publications are available through 311, and the agency's website has a wealth of educational materials for mothers and for health care providers: www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/csi/csi-breast-feed.shtml#pem.
The National Breastfeeding Helpline is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. After hours, callers may leave a message and receive a phone call during business hours. Over-the-phone peer counseling is available in English and Spanish. For more information or to order breastfeeding materials, visit nyc.gov/health or call 311.