Alabama breastfeeding rates among lowest in nation

We looked into the possible reasons and how hospitals are working to improve the statistics

Special Report: Breastfeeding rates declining in Alabama

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - You’ve heard “Breast is Best” when it comes to feeding your baby but if that is the case, why are breastfeeding rates in the state of Alabama among the lowest in the nation. WSFA 12 News Anchor Sally Pitts looked into the possible reasons and how hospitals are working to improve the statistics.

Katie Wolter, a mom to six boys, knows the importance of breastfeeding. She’s also a pediatrician and sees the health benefits.

"The emotional bonding. I just really wanted to experience that with all my kids,” Wolter said. “There’s also a multitude of benefits, one of them being that it decreases the risk for infections.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months with continued breastfeeding alongside introduction of complementary foods for at least one year.

In Alabama, statistics from the CDC show just 68 percent of babies in Alabama were breastfed. That number drops to 36 percent by 12 months.

"I think a big part of that is support, both in the health care system and also in the workforce,” Wolter added.

Wolter says moms don’t get a lot of maternity leave and the lack of access to support from lactation consultants can add to the stresses of being a new mother.

“A lot of places don’t have nurses available to come out to the home or to be present in the hospital for those first two days,” Wolter said.

East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC) is a baby friendly hospital, a program launched by the World Health Organization to promote breastfeeding. They are just one hospital working to bridge the gap.

“We did things all wrong in the past. We kept babies away from their moms thinking that we were helping mom, but baby really needs to be with mom. They need to bond and have that skin to skin time which promotes breastfeeding bond.” Wolter said.

Angela Hamby, a lactation consultant at EAMC, supports moms on their breastfeeding journeys.

"When we give them breast milk, it goes through their systems a lot easier, it’s easier to digest,” Hamby said. “It has just the right things. the right sugars, the right proteins, the right amount of nutrients that they need. and it has antibodies which the mom makes and passes on the baby, formula can't do that."

Hamby says breastfeeding rates are improving in Alabama but sometimes, despite a mom’s best efforts, she’s unable to breastfeed.

"That is our biggest challenges. When you have a mom that really, really wants to make breastfeeding work." Hamby said.

One of those moms is Hillary Parker.

"Formula was never really an option in my mind,” Parker said.

When baby Ivey Ross was born everything seemed to be going well.

“She would nurse and nurse and nurse and then she would fall asleep and I was thinking oh she's really good and full," Parker said.

But the baby was losing weight so Parker worked with a lactation consultant to develop a plan.

“We actually just started supplementing with formula first while also breastfeeding."

Still, Ivey Ross wasn’t gaining enough weight.

“So, at that moment I realized ok, we have to formula feed. I have to put my plans aside and sometimes life doesn’t always go as we planned. So, I had to do what was best for my child.” Parker said.

For Ivey Ross that meant formula.

Hamby hopes research can help answer why some moms are unable to produce enough milk. She’d also like to see more donor milk banks in the state.

"We have one in Birmingham now but really, it's only accessible to hospitals NICU’s. I hope that in the future we will have more availability to just your mom out there who doesn't have milk for own baby." Hamby said.

For moms that do have to turn to formula, Parker says give yourself a little grace.

"Just be joyful in that and have pride in knowing that you're allowing your baby to grow, develop and thrive."

Many new moms cite the struggle of returning to work as a reason they stop breastfeeding. Just know women do have legal rights when it comes to pumping in the workplace. You can find that information and other information on breastfeeding at this link.

Also, here’s a list of facilities where lactation consultants are available in your area.

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