GOING THE DISTANCE
Beyond making individual women feel more comfortable nursing in public, the WW campaign has broader goals. Indeed, one-on-one resources are in abundance for moms in Maine, where there are 5.6 International Board Certified Lactation Consultants for every 1000 live births (the national average is 2.7). In addition, the international La Leche League, a non-profit that provides education and encouragement to breastfeeding moms, has several outposts and regular meetings around the state. And the all-volunteer Maine State Breastfeeding Coalition is working to increase the number of baby-friendly hospitals in the state (see sidebar, "The Business of Baby-friendliness").
But what happens when women leave the hospital, or their homes, or the security of a support group? "No one was really doing, on an ongoing basis, anything to change the public perception . . . in the workplace and out and about in women's daily lives," Miller says.
While Maine has relatively high breastfeeding rates — just under 75 percent of babies are ever breastfed in this state, which roughly corresponds with the national average — there's a quick drop-off: by six months, the percentage of breastfed babies is down to 50 percent (this too aligns with national statistics). The US Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People objectives, which set benchmarks for public health, would like to see those numbers increase to 82 and 60 percent by 2020. In turn (fingers crossed), national medical costs will go down and indicators of health will improve.
"Breast milk is uniquely suited to the human infant's nutritional needs," reads the surgeon general's Call to Action, "and is a live substance with unparalleled immunological and anti-inflammatory properties that protect against a host of illnesses and diseases for both mothers and children."
Breast-milk proponents claim that long-term nursing helps prevent or reduce a wide range of health problems, from the more common ear infections and infant diarrhea, through more serious conditions like respiratory infections and asthma, all the way to life-altering conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Even mothers reap benefits; studies suggest that the risk for both breast and ovarian cancers is reduced for moms who breastfeed. (It's worth noting that breastfeeding data is by nature observational and it is difficult to control for the many associated factors and outcomes.)
"It benefits everybody," Rogers says, echoing the WW campaign slogan. "If everybody made a commitment to make families feel more comfortable breastfeeding, it would have an impact on community health."
One way to do so is to support breastfeeding in public places. Another is to continue to find innovative ways to support breastfeeding in the workplace — which will be the second phase of the Whenever, Wherever campaign. There are other initiatives happening in other sectors, such as a research study currently taking place at Maine Medical Center examining how hospital practices affect how long a mother chooses to breastfeed.
"We've enrolled 1200 moms and are excited to analyze our results in the upcoming months," says Kara Kaikini, parent education program coordinator at Maine Med and principal investigator on the research study. "Hopefully we'll learn more about how we as a hospital can help influence breastfeeding duration rates, which would then hopefully influence the number of mothers and babies breastfeeding while out and about. The more support mothers can feel prenatally, throughout their birth and postpartum experience in the hospital, and once they are home . . . will all help make breastfeeding more accepted, and normal, and possible."
The business of baby-friendliness