Study Analyzes Positive Effects of Peer Counseling Breastfeeding Programs in Rural Minnesota

A new study from the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota has analyzed the success of increasing breastfeeding rates among women in rural Minnesota as a result of recently implemented federally-funded peer breastfeeding support programs. Due to lower rates of breastfeeding among low-income and rural women, federal policy makers have funded various breastfeeding peer-counseling programs which employ local people experienced in breastfeeding to provide counseling to other women in their local community who are seeking guidance in this area.

Upon analyzing breastfeeding rates in counties across Minnesota, the researchers found that compared to counties without peer-counseling programs, counties with these programs saw an increase from 42 percent to 45 percent of participants breastfeeding for three months or longer, as well as an increase from 30 percent to 33 percent for those who breastfed for six months or longer. Specifically in rural counties with peer counseling programs, the rate of women breastfeeding for three months or longer increased from 40 percent to 44 percent; women who breastfed for six months or longer increased from 29 percent to 33 percent. Notably, breastfeeding rates in Minnesota counties without peer counseling rates saw increases as well, which the research team believes could be due to the programs in nearby counties increasing the public’s general awareness of breastfeeding benefits.

“As with many other aspects of maternal and infant health, rural residents experience disparities in the number of people who breastfeed, as well as the amount of time they are able to do so,” said Julia Interrante, lead author and research fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Rural Health Research Center. “Minnesota’s peer breastfeeding support program had a consistent and significant positive impact in addressing these inequities suggesting that policymakers should explore improving rural breastfeeding rates through increased funding for women, infant, and children agencies to expand these programs.”

Dr. Interrante earned dual bachelor’s degrees from the University of Virginia in foreign affairs and women and gender studies. She holds a master of public health degree in epidemiology from Emory University in Atlanta and a Ph.D. in health services, research, policy, and administration from the University of Minnesota.

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