UAlbany and Department of Health Examine Breastfeeding Disparities in the State

a smiling dark-haired woman in a white blouse holds a yawning newborn in blue knit overalls
Photo by Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 18, 2021) — UAlbany’s School of Public Health (SPH) is collaborating with the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) to better understand breastfeeding disparities in New York. Study findings collected by SPH will be included in NYSDOH’s report to the legislature in 2022 to recommend ways to improve access to prenatal and postpartum health care services, reduce barriers, and increase breastfeeding success.

Studies show breastfeeding is beneficial for long-term health, reducing the risk to infants of asthma, gastroenteritis, obesity, respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome. For breastfeeding mothers, reduced risk has been observed for ovarian cancer, breast cancer, hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and for developing cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic conditions. The World Health Organization recommends that infants are exclusively breastfed for six months after birth. However, only 24 percent of babies born in New York in 2018 were exclusively breastfed for the recommended time frame, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Christine Bozlak, associate professor in the Department of Health Policy, Management and Behavior and co-director of UAlbany’s Maternal and Child Health program, explained that there are many communities in New York that have lower breastfeeding rates and greater breastfeeding disparities, including certain racial and ethnic groups, groups that have been economically/socially marginalized and, in general, individuals in communities that have historically experienced systemic barriers to accessing health care services or supports.

“For 36 years, SPH has conducted timely academic work alongside our Department of Health colleagues,” said Bozlak. “Our close relationship enables us to provide critical support on important maternal and child health issues, like breastfeeding, providing the data needed to develop strategies to reduce barriers, improve access, improve breastfeeding rates, and reduce disparities to ultimately build healthier communities in New York.”

Bozlak, along with Lindsay Ruland, associate director, and Britnee Eskew, research coordinator of SPH’s Center for Public Health Continuing Education, are leading the study at SPH. NYSDOH provided recommendations for national and state experts to participate in SPH’s work and identified regions across the state with low breastfeeding rates where particular focus should be placed. For this SPH study, NYSDOH has emphasized the need to include stakeholders, organizations and healthcare providers who work closely with those who are likely to experience breastfeeding disparities.

“Our primary focus is to reach individuals, stakeholders, advocates and organizations who interact directly with the groups with the lowest breastfeeding rates so we can obtain their perspectives and expertise on how to best address the disparities in their communities” says Ruland, project manager for the study.

SPH is now in the data collection phase, interviewing and surveying individuals with expertise in breastfeeding promotion and breastfeeding disparities including health care professionals, lactation consultants, health educators, community leaders and minority health advocates.

In addition to assisting NYSDOH’s report to the legislature, a summary of findings from SPH’s report will be shared with study participants, providing them with insights that may inform the work they are doing to address breastfeeding disparities in their own communities.

UAlbany will provide findings to NYSDOH in March 2022 for their review and inclusion in their report to the NYS legislature. For more information on this study, email research coordinator Britnee Eskew.