Study finds benefits of breastfeeding for mothers, not just babies

February 21, 2017 by Alec Rosenberg
Credit: iStock/FatCamera

Breastfeeding isn't only good for babies. It's also good for the health of mothers. It helps moms bond with their newborns, recover from childbirth and can reduce their risks of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer.

But breastfeeding rates are low for young moms, particularly low-income women of color.

An innovative study—funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Program with the help of donations from state tax filers—aims to address that issue and boost among young moms.

"It could really make a difference on the public health level," said co-investigator Alison Chopel. "If we find ways to increase breastfeeding, we'll see future savings to taxpayers."

Chopel's interests in the breastfeeding study are both personal and professional. She has firsthand experience as a young mother.

"I was aimless and barely making it through high school," she said. "Having a child changed my perspective. It put me on a completely different path."

Chopel now directs the California Adolescent Health Collaborative for the Public Health Institute and is teaming on the breastfeeding study with Danielle Soto of Brighter Beginnings, a nonprofit working to support children and families.

When Brighter Beginnings surveyed young moms, it found that only 3 percent still breastfed after six months, compared with more than half of mothers nationally.

Identifying barriers

Young moms know about the importance of breastfeeding, but they face social and structural barriers, Soto said.

The 18-month study, supported by $150,000 in funding, aims to identify those barriers and develop interventions.

A key barrier seems to be the stigma of being a young mom.

"They experience a lot of stigma and unwanted advice as ," Chopel said. "A lot of people feel they shouldn't be mothers. They are judged. It makes it more challenging to breastfeed in public."

The researchers have been studying mothers 16-24 years old, most of whom are African American or Latina. They have been mapping where the mothers do and don't feel comfortable breastfeeding.

"Some say they would never breastfeed on BART. Another said she might," said Elva Castellanos with the Public Health Institute. "One said she would never breastfeed at church. One said she would feel comfortable there. One 17-year-old mom said, 'I wouldn't breastfeed anywhere.' There were no places she felt comfortable."

Finding a safe space to breastfeed can be a barrier. Many young moms go to school, work or do both. For example, one mom worked nights and didn't feel safe sitting in a parking lot at night pumping milk, Chopel said.

Caregiver attitudes also can be a barrier.

"Young mothers rely heavily on others to help with child care," Chopel said. "They can be susceptible to the opinions of those around them."

Involving the community

The study's community-based approach has helped increase its relevance, rigor and reach, researchers said. They formed an advisory committee that helped select key community stakeholders to interview about young moms. Then, building on Brighter Beginnings' relationships with its clients, they found young moms and their decision-making partners to participate in the study. One of the young moms, Bre'Jaynae Joiner, also became a co-investigator on the project.

"It's incredibly valuable," Soto said. "We are doing research not just on young mothers but with young mothers. We are doing taxpayer-funded research with taxpayers."

Once they analyze the mapping data, the researchers will design potential interventions, which they hope to pilot at multiple sites in a follow-up study. They also plan to share their research results not only with the scientific community but with the public as well, such as tabling at health fairs.

"It's a perfect marriage between research, partnership and ," Soto said.

The California Breast Cancer Research Program is one of two University of California-administered cancer research programs that taxpayers can support with voluntary contributions when they file state income taxes. These programs aim to prevent breast, lung and other cancers, and increase survival rates by funding cutting-edge research and health education such as the breastfeeding study.

"This study exemplifies how tax check-off contributions help us identify tangible solutions for elevated risk in underserved communities," said Mhel Kavanaugh-Lynch, director of the California Breast Cancer Research Program. "Through their generous contributions, Californians are leading the way in advancing and increasing our arsenal of strategies to prevent the disease."

Explore further: New moms moving toward the bottle

Related Stories

New moms moving toward the bottle

December 7, 2016
New moms are increasingly using expressed breast milk (either pumped or expressed by hand) instead of directly breastfeeding their babies, according to a UBC study.

new study that shows breastfeeding saves mothers' lives, too

September 28, 2016
Breastfeeding as recommended—for a total of one year and exclusively for six months—could protect babies and their moms from premature death and serious diseases and save the U.S. more than $4.3 billion in health care ...

Moms need help to overcome breastfeeding worries, study says

July 11, 2013
More support is needed to help women overcome doubts in the hope that they will breastfeed their babies for longer, says a University of Alberta nutrition researcher.

'Breast is best' message can be harmful

November 15, 2016
New research conducted by the University of Liverpool shows that mothers can experience negative emotions such as guilt, stigma and the need to defend their feeding choices regardless of how they feed their baby.

Some breastfeeding advice worth ditching: US task force

October 25, 2016
A review of scientific evidence on breastfeeding out Tuesday found that some long-held advice is worth ditching, including that babies should avoid pacifiers and moms should breastfeed exclusively in the first days after ...

Rural employers failing to meet needs of working breastfeeding mothers

September 27, 2016
Research has shown that for working mothers, the ability to breastfeed their babies is critical to their physical, mental and economic health as well as to their babies' cognitive and physical development. The Affordable ...

Recommended for you

Experts devise plan to slash unnecessary medical testing

October 17, 2017
Researchers at top hospitals in the U.S. and Canada have developed an ambitious plan to eliminate unnecessary medical testing, with the goal of reducing medical bills while improving patient outcomes, safety and satisfaction.

New study: Nearly half of US medical care comes from emergency rooms

October 17, 2017
Nearly half of all US medical care is delivered by emergency departments, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). And in recent years, the percentage of care delivered ...

No evidence that widely marketed technique to treat leaky bladder/prolapse works

October 16, 2017
There is no scientific evidence that a workout widely marketed to manage the symptoms of a leaky bladder and/or womb prolapse actually works, conclude experts in an editorial published online in the British Journal of Sports ...

Ten pence restaurant chain levy on sugary drinks linked to fall in sales

October 16, 2017
The introduction of a 10 pence levy on sugar sweetened drinks across the 'Jamie's Italian' chain of restaurants in the UK was associated with a relatively large fall in sales of these beverages of between 9 and 11 per cent, ...

New exercises help athletes manage dangerous breathing disorder

October 16, 2017
A novel set of breathing techniques developed at National Jewish Health help athletes overcome vocal cord dysfunction and improve performance during high-intensity exercise. Vocal cord dysfunction, now also referred to as ...

Learning and staying in shape key to longer lifespan, study finds

October 13, 2017
People who are overweight cut their life expectancy by two months for every extra kilogramme of weight they carry, research suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.