W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant enhances MSU breast-feeding program and study

Beth Olson is working with the Breast Feeding Initiative to encourage more mothers to breast feed their children.

Beth Olson

Although breast-feeding rates have increased in recent years, breast-feeding rates are still low among lower income women. That’s the focus of the Breast-Feeding Initiative, or BFI, a program that will now see a significant enhancement, thanks to a $650,000, two-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The BFI is a partnership between Michigan State University (MSU), MSU Extension and the Michigan Department of Community Health Women, Infant and Children’s Division (WIC). Investigators will research the feasibility of a new model to encourage more low-income women to breast-feed their babies.

“Breast-feeding is the first step that mothers can take after their babies are born to provide them with the best possible health and nutrition,” said Beth Olson, an MSU AgBioResearch  scientist and the principal investigator for the grant. “Although we know how important breast-feeding is for both mothers and their babies, many women still encounter obstacles that cause them not to breast-feed or to stop breast-feeding early. Lower income women are even less likely to breast-feed than those with higher incomes.”

Olson, associate professor in the MSU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and collaborators Jean Kerver, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, and Patricia Benton, program leader for the BFI, will focus on developing new ways to deliver programs offered through the initiative.

Currently the BFI provides one-on-one peer counseling to mothers eligible for WIC through home visits. The peer counselors are women recruited from the community and, though they have breast-feeding experience, they are also specifically trained on how to provide support to breast-feeding mothers.

The BFI has served more than 20,000 women in the past 10 years, and about 98 percent of these women started breast-feeding their babies. The rate for other low-income women in Michigan is 52 percent. Recent funding cuts reduced the BFI from full-time in 38 counties to 25 percent time in 14 counties, Olson said.

The Kellogg Foundation grant will allow the project team to develop and pilot a new method for delivering the program content in nine of the remaining counties beginning Oct. 1. Home visits by peers to help mothers start breast-feeding in the important early days of a baby’s life will continue, Benton said.

The new program delivery system will seek to provide mothers with visits to peer counselors at the WIC clinic and group classes on topics that will help mothers continue to breast-feed, such as becoming comfortable breast-feeding in public, continuing to breast-feed after returning to work or school, and adding solid foods to the baby’s diet at the right time. It will also stress the importance of mother-to-mother support groups to help women see how other mothers in similar situations address obstacles to breast-feeding.

Data from the group’s previous studies suggest that infants in the program suffered fewer respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses and had lower Medicaid expenditures in their first year. With the new funding, researchers expect similar results.

“This effort will incorporate the best practices of our home visiting program, our WIC clinic partnerships, nutrition education and group support,” Benton said.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, established in 1930, supports children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society. Grants are concentrated in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and southern Africa.

Did you find this article useful?

You Might Also Be Interested In