Breastfeeding Rates on the Rise

By Briana Vannozzi

At just over an hour old, little Tajauan Purnell is working on an afternoon snack. There’s an upward trend in the number of moms choosing to breastfeed, and New Jersey is outpacing the rest of the nation.

“We’ve done a lot to educate moms about the benefits of breastfeeding, which include a boost to the child’s immune system, the reduction in cost associated with breast milk and of course the mother/infant bonding that happens when they breastfeed,” said Carl Kirton, chief nursing officer at University Hospital Newark.

University Hospital in Newark is one of 11 “Baby-Friendly” designated hospitals in the state. It took several years to achieve the status. They did away with nurseries, instead keeping moms and babies together, and educated every member of the hospital staff. Medical facilities have played a large role in shifting the culture back to a “breast is best” mantra.

“This is something that New Jersey hospitals have really emphasized in recent years working in partnership with the state Department of Health to emphasize the importance of breastfeeding to moms and to actually encourage them to breastfeed and to discourage the use of formula unless that is their choice,” said Betsy Ryan, president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association.

New Jersey stacks up well compared to national rates — 81.6 percent of our babies are breastfed at some point while 79.2 percent are breastfed nationally. A year later though, that number dips. Just under 31 percent of babies in the Garden State are still nursing with 26.7 percent nationally.

“So 24 hours after each mom is discharged, we make a phone call to them — hopefully the information that they give us is correct — and we ask how they’re doing and if they’re not doing well we bring them back to the clinic right away,” said Lynda Arnold, director of family health services for University Hospital Newark.

Arnold says that support system keeps moms motivated to continue nursing. She wants the state to take a larger role in overseeing and regulating board certified lactation consultants. Data show hospitals with consultants on staff have higher rates of breastfeeding.

“We’ve heard on a number of occasions that someone can take an hour or five-hour class and then call themselves a consultant or specialist. That’s not the case,” said Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt.

Lampitt is sponsoring legislation to create a state lactation advisory board. She also has a bill seeking to remove the sales tax on breast pumps and any breastfeeding supplies.

“This will reduce the barriers for women to have access towards sometimes very expensive equipment,” she said.

Hoping New Jersey will continue to set the standard and support breastfeeding moms.