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Study Finds Gap in Breastfeeding Rates at California Hospitals

California hospitals that largely serve non-white, low-income women and children report lower numbers of women who breastfeed newborns compared with other hospitals statewide, according to a report released Tuesday by the UC-Davis Human Lactation Center and the California WIC Association, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports (Dean, Riverside Press-Enterprise, 9/2).

In Stanislaus County, for example, about 59% of white women who gave birth at hospitals reported breastfeeding the newborn exclusively, while 33% of Hispanic women and 32% of black women said they exclusively breastfed (Carlson, Modesto Bee, 9/3).

The statewide average breastfeeding rate is 42.7%, the report found (Halstead, Marin Independent Journal, 9/2).

The report's findings raise concerns that more targeted efforts are needed to address cultural gaps, according to the Bee (Modesto Bee, 9/3).

Breastfeeding is encouraged because studies show that the practice reduces the likelihood of childhood obesity and ear infections and boosts children's immune systems (Reiter, Merced Sun-Star, 9/3).

'Baby-Friendly' Hospitals

The report found that California hospitals that have won the "baby-friendly" designation from the World Health Organization report higher rates of women who breastfeed exclusively. To get the designation, facilities must meet a series of benchmarks for supporting and encouraging breastfeeding.

At baby-friendly hospitals in California, the study found breastfeeding rates of:

  • 71% among white women;
  • 66% among Hispanic women; and
  • 62% among black women.
Nineteen facilities in California have won the designation (Modesto Bee, 9/3). Nationwide, there are 66 baby-friendly hospitals, according to Glenda Randolph, lactation counselor for the San Bernardino WIC program (Riverside Press-Enterprise, 9/2). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.