Breastfeeding in Appalachia Project Gaining Recognition

Mollie Fitzgerald
February 1, 2013

In a recent research project, senior Psychology major Holly Strickland examined breastfeeding patterns in Southeast Ohio. As breastfeeding is virtually free, she wondered why certain Appalachian regions had lower breastfeeding rates than others within the state.

Strickland worked alongside Voinovich School Assistant Professor Holly Raffle and graduate student Amy Borchardt to conduct a study in 19 counties assessing barriers to breastfeeding initiation and success, as well as opportunities for improvement. The study was funded by a contract with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

Raffle and Strickland gathered feedback from women through focus groups. The study aimed at better understanding perceptions of breastfeeding and considered many issues such as culture, family, and poverty. Their research included interviews with women receiving benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant and Children (WIC).

Strickland explained that women in poverty are also more focused on getting through the day rather than planning ahead. Consequently, proper breastfeeding practices require planning and scheduling into the future.

Other issues for professionals to consider when helping Appalachian women succeed with breastfeeding include the communication styles doctors, nurses and lactation consultants use with their patients.

"How (healthcare providers) interpersonally interact with women plays a big part in (women's) health decisions," explained Strickland. Raffle agrees that it is important to understand ways in which healthcare providers can change what they do ever so slightly to make their interactions more culturally competent.

This April, Dr. Raffle and Alison Murphy, from ODH,will present their project at the National WIC Association's 30th Annual Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas in hopes of change perceptions and provider-patient interactions to proactively support rural Appalachian mothers in their efforts to breastfeed their children.