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COMMENTARY: WIC celebrates World Breastfeeding Week

The St. Joseph's Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program is celebrating Minnesota Breastfeeding Awareness Month in August and World Breastfeeding Week, Aug. 1-7.

This year's theme focuses on "Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life."

The week helps raise awareness of the importance of breastfeeding for both babies and mothers and calls attention to local efforts that support breastfeeding.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding is the standard for infant feeding. It provides essential nutrients and antibodies that boost an infant's immune system, providing protection from childhood illnesses. Babies who are not breastfed are more likely to develop common childhood illnesses, like ear infections and diarrhea as well as chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, asthma and childhood obesity.

Breastfeeding helps children get off to a healthy start. It's the foundation of life.

Breastfeeding is important for mothers, too. Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis. Increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates is one of the goals outlined in the Healthy Minnesota 2020 framework to improve health and reduce health disparities across the state.

More than 89 percent of Minnesota moms start breastfeeding, but at 6 months that drops to 35 percent, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control Breastfeeding Report Card. Less than half of Minnesota infants are exclusively breastfed at 3 months. Challenges women face to meet their breastfeeding goals include those they experience in health care settings, worksites and child care centers.

That's changing In Minnesota. Thanks to the efforts by leadership within many organizations, WIC and the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP), growing numbers of health care, child care, employers and health departments are working to address the barriers and make breastfeeding easier for new mothers.

St. Joseph's WIC supports breastfeeding by guiding moms making plans for the hospital, doing education about what to expect the first few weeks and helping make plans to return to work and/or school.

SHIP grantees partner with employers, child care facilities and maternity centers, and support the work of breastfeeding coalitions with the goal of creating more breastfeeding friendly policies and environments.

By making breastfeeding easier, mothers can reach their goals and give their babies the best possible start in life. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recognizes those who take steps to provide accommodations and support for women who would like to breastfeed or continue to breastfeed after returning to work or school. Visit the MDH Breastfeeding Friendly Recognition Program website for more details.