LOS ANGELES - A substantially higher percentage of mothers - nearly 80% -- in Los Angeles County initiate breastfeeding compared with 60% nationally, according to a survey sponsored by the County's Department of Health Services (DHS). However, the percentage of mothers in the County who breastfed for at least six months was only about 40% and the percentage of mothers who breastfed 12 months or longer was only 18%. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be breastfed for at least 12 months. "These findings tell us that more effective strategies are needed to promote the successful initiation and continuation of breastfeeding during the baby's first year of life," said Jonathan E. Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health and County Health Officer.
A supportive environment is especially important during the first few weeks after birth. Research shows that this is a critical transition period when mothers may be more likely to discontinue breastfeeding. "The discontinuation of breastfeeding highlights the importance of creating more supportive environments at work, home and social settings so that women may continue breastfeeding," said Dr. Fielding. Extensive research documents breastfeeding as the optimal method for feeding infants because it promotes the best possible health, developmental, and psychosocial outcomes for children. Breast milk contains maternal antibodies and other immune factors that provide infants with protection against many types of infections, including ear, respiratory, and gastrointestinal infections. Recent studies suggest that breastfeeding may lower the risk of some chronic conditions during childhood, including diabetes, obesity and asthma. Another significant finding is that White and Latino mothers were more likely to initiate breastfeeding (84% and 82% respectively) than African-American (60%) and Asian/Pacific Islander (68%) mothers. The discontinuation of breastfeeding over the first six months was even more pronounced among African-Americans and Asians/Pacific Islanders.
"Our efforts to initiate breastfeeding and encourage the practice beyond the first six months should be targeted most intensively to African-American and Asian populations and to other vulnerable groups, including single and teen mothers," said Paul Simon, M.D., M.P.H., Director, Office of Health Assessment and Epidemiology. The complete study is available on Public Health's web site at: www.lapublichealth.org/
A total of 2,174 randomly selected children (aged birth through five years) were included in the survey. However, the questions on breastfeeding were restricted to the 2,056 (95%) children for whom the biological mother was available for interview. Public Health, a division of DHS, released the figures today. The Los Angeles County Health Survey was repeated in September 1999 through April 2000; this biennial survey was first conducted in 1997.
The Los Angeles County Health Survey is a population-based telephone survey of approximately 8,000 households in the County, examining health and health-related issues for adults and children. Field Research Corporation conducted the survey for DHS with support from the California Department of Health Services and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services.
Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control and community and family health and comprises more than 3,600 employees with an annual budget exceeding $430 million.