In addition to the 2012 Summer Olympics, the world has another reason to celebrate this week – World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7). Breastfeeding provides the best and most natural nutrition for infants and is associated with many positive outcomes for both baby and mother. In fact, breastfed babies have fewer ear and respiratory infections, are at less risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and score higher on cognitive development tests than non-breastfed babies. Women who breastfeed have lower risk of osteoporosis and a decreased risk of breast cancer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be exclusively breastfed until 6 months of age and continue to receive some breast milk thru at least 12 months of age. Unfortunately, there are many societal and institutional barriers that inhibit mothers from initiating breastfeeding and continuing to breastfeed as recommended. While Kentucky law protects a woman’s right to breastfeed in any public or private location, many environments are not conducive or supportive of the practice.

Less than 10 percent of Kentucky mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first 6 months. One possible contributor is Kentucky’s poor rate of breastfeeding being initiated before mother and baby are discharged from the hospital. During the 2007-2009 time period, only 55 percent of Kentucky babies were breastfed at least once before hospital discharge. That rate has been gradually improving over the years, and will likely continue to grow thanks to the Kangaroo Care initiative which promotes skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby in the hours immediately after birth and throughout the hospital stay to encourage and promote breastfeeding and bonding.

County rates of breastfeeding initiation prior to hospital discharge in Kentucky varied widely in 2007-2009. Clay, Harlan and Martin Counties experienced the lowest rates, while Fayette, Oldham and Woodford Counties had the highest rates. To see how your county is faring on breastfeeding initiation, view the 2011 County Data Book here.

In order to continue increasing breastfeeding rates, Kentucky developed a breastfeeding strategic plan last year. It takes the support of family, friends, employers, and communities at-large to significantly improve breastfeeding rates. Community-oriented solutions include the following:

  • Hospitals can develop a written breastfeeding policy and provide skilled lactation consultants;
  • Child care centers can encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies by posting information about the benefits of breastfeeding and allow the storing of frozen breast milk for use at the center; and,
  • Employers can create family friendly work environments that provide adequate time and places for mothers to breastfeed or pump.


Kentucky Youth Advocates thanks the KIDS COUNT Data Sponsor Kangaroo Care at the University of Louisville Hospital for their support of this KIDS COUNT indicator.