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Baby food

Researcher finds that grandmothers’ advice can interfere with breastfeeding

Mother’s milk is always best, but grandmother’s advice can get in the way of babies receiving their best source of nutrition.

Those are the findings recently published in the Journal of Human Lactation by a foods and nutrition researcher in UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

“Numerous studies have shown that exclusive breastfeeding, particularly during the first six months of a baby’s life, provides numerous benefits,” said Alex Kojo Anderson, assistant professor of foods and nutrition. “The iron that is found in breast milk is more absorbable than that found in formula. There are also immunoglobins in breast milk that build the baby’s immune system. And, finally, some mothers don’t mix formula as directed by the formula producer. If either too much or not enough water is added, it can have a detrimental effect on the baby’s health.”

In his study, Anderson and his fellow researchers compared the impact of peer counseling interventions among low-income African Americans, Puerto Ricans and non-Puerto Rican Hispanics and why peer counseling wasn’t always successful.

“Overall, our study showed that providing peer counselors to low-income mothers before they deliver and continuing that support for a few weeks after birth made a significant difference in these mothers’ breastfeeding behavior,” Anderson said. “At two months after birth, 44 percent of the non-Puerto Rican Hispanics and African Americans who had received peer counseling were still exclusively breastfeeding compared with almost none of the moms in the control group.”

But the rates among Puerto Rican moms who received counseling were dramatically different. Only 11 percent of the Puerto Rican mothers who received counseling were still exclusively breastfeeding at two months post-partum.

“As we continued to examine our data we found that a primary factor associated with exclusive breastfeeding among Puerto Rican mothers was whether the infant’s maternal grandmother resided in the United States,” Anderson said.

“The reason for the difference seems to be the maternal grandmother’s opposition to exclusive breastfeeding,” he said. “Most of these grandmothers didn’t breastfeed their own children and they tended to express concerns that breast milk wasn’t adequate for the baby.”

Their concerns may be an outgrowth of the boom in the baby formula industry that has occurred in developed countries. In developing countries, breastfeeding is still the norm among most cultures because formula is too expensive and, in some cases, access to safe water is limited.

In the U.S., however, very few states have met the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics’ objective of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. In addition, formula feeding is particularly common among low-income populations, including those who qualify for WIC, the federal supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children.

The ability of grandmothers to discourage their daughters from exclusively breastfeeding their new babies should lead to family education programs.

“We can’t just concentrate on the moms,” he said. “We need to involve everyone associated with the mom—older children, husbands or boyfriends, and, of course, grandmothers—if we are to attain the breastfeeding goals set for this country.”