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Striking Improvements in Breastfeeding Rates Linked to Low-Tech Study

By Lupe Chavez
December 19, 2001

The U.S. Surgeon General has made increasing breastfeeding rates a public health priority, but there has been little information about the best way to do so--until now. Agricultural Research Service scientists at the Children's Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, have identified ways to increase breastfeeding rates among low-income Hispanic mothers.

Proyecto Leche de Vida (Project Milk of Life), a community-based project spearheaded by scientist Judy Hopkinson at CNRC, is churning out results. In a study of 105 women, she found that 38 percent breastfed exclusively for a period of 3 months, compared to the normal area rate of 5 percent. Documented research indicates that breastfeeding exclusively for 3 months helps reduce infant morbidity and medical costs during the first year of life.

The study was designed to compare the effectiveness of home visits and telephone consultations among Hispanic women living in Houston's East End community. The neighborhood is home to a large immigrant population, of which 90 percent are Hispanic and many are first-generation families in the United States. Providing medical services and information to the country’s burgeoning Hispanic population could help decrease medical costs and improve children's health.

Hopkinson’s research also found that 41 percent of participants who received home visits and 35 percent of those who received phone calls still breastfed their child exclusively at 3 months postpartum. First-time mothers often lack breastfeeding knowledge and skills. Hispanic women also have limited access to Spanish-language breastfeeding information and assistance in hospitals. As a result, bilingual hands-on teaching during home visits improved breastfeeding rates among the experimental group.

Hopkinson's group has provided approximately 2,700 consultations about breastfeeding to more than 450 women living in Houston. Another 1,000 women have participated in prenatal breastfeeding classes.

Proyecto Leche de Vida’s success has helped it gain a $250,000 Texas grant to help develop similar projects in under-served Houston neighborhoods.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.