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Feds Support Native Breastfeeding

In a win for Native moms who want increased psychological support in their efforts to raise healthy families, the Office of the First Lady has embarked on a breastfeeding awareness campaign in Indian country.

To help focus on the benefits of mother’s milk for Indian infants, federal officials embarked on the Navajo Nation in late-June. There, medical officials launched an initiative to reintroduce breastfeeding across Native America, and to explain its healthy benefits. The awareness campaign is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move in Indian Country” campaign.

The effort coincided with a push from Surgeon General Regina Benjamin who has noted the importance of breastfeeding; in January, she issued a call for making nursing easier for all mothers. “One of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect her child and her own health is to breast-feed,” Benjamin said at a press briefing early this year.

Research has shown that breast milk helps bolster a child’s immune system, protects against obesity in babies, reduces the risk of seizures, pneumonia, diarrhea, ear infections and asthma. It is also correlated with a lowered risk of ovarian and breast cancer in mothers.

According to anecdotal evidence, some areas of Indian country have been waning in breastfeeding, which has led to concern for the health of Native youth. The problem is part of a nationwide trend, as data indicates that 75 percent of new mothers start out breast-feeding, but only 43 percent are still doing it six months later. Only 13 percent are exclusively nursing at the six-month point, meaning the vast majority of women have begun supplementing with formula by that time, and missing out on the health benefits of nursing.

Rosebud Bear, a lactation counselor for the American Indian Health and Family Services center in Detroit, said that any support from the federal level on helping improve awareness for Indian women on the benefits of breastfeeding is welcomed. Already some federal and state governments provide support and education to many Indian women on breastfeeding, most often through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program for low-income women.