College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Researchers Evaluate If ‘Breast Is Best’ in the Delta

Center for Population Studies joins interdisciplinary team to plan and study breastfeeding program

MARCH 24, 2015  |  BY MISTY COWHERD

The ‘Right! from the Start’ initiative is a breastfeeding outreach program funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The ‘Right! from the Start’ initiative is a breastfeeding outreach program funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The University of Mississippi Center for Population Studies has been invited to partner with various organizations to plan, research and evaluate a program using breastfeeding to improve the health outcomes for low birth weight babies from the Delta region of Mississippi.

The “Right! from the Start” initiative is a breastfeeding outreach program funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. It works to address socioeconomic, racial, and geographic disparities in maternal-child health, and its partners have launched two projects to increase breastfeeding rates among mothers in the Delta.

Through a new W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant to the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, the initiative has been expanded to create a hospital-based project focusing on low birth weight babies from five counties: Bolivar, Coahoma, Leflore, Sunflower and Washington. Mothers of babies from those areas who are admitted to the Level III neonatal care unit, or NICU, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson will receive specialized services.

“We will be working directly with the mothers as it relates to breastfeeding while also helping to coordinate other services needed to ensure the mom is able to continue providing breast milk to her baby,” said Sandy Snell, director of Right! from the Start. “This includes providing transportation to the NICU and providing breast pumps to those not having access to one or the other.

“The objective is to ensure better health outcomes for mothers and babies and affect systematic change through a collaborative, multiagency approach.”

The Center for Population Studies will handle the research and evaluation aspects of the program.

“Working in collaboration with our colleagues at UMMC, we want to identify whether there are health benefits to low birth weight babies who are breastfed and the extent to which support services improve mothers’ abilities to initiate and continue breastfeeding,” said John Green, UM associate professor of sociology and director of the center. “We hope to identify the potential population health implications if such support services were made more widely available through changes in public policy.”

The outreach project’s rural setting is significant. Babies in Mississippi have long had a greater chance of dying before their first birthdays than babies in other states. Additionally, preterm and low birth weight rates are high in Mississippi, especially in the Delta region.
“I believe that collaboration is the key to change in the Delta,” Snell said. “We hope to work with agencies providing maternal and child health services to identify gaps in care and services and develop solutions to providing equitable, accessible services for low birth weight babies and their families.”

Other partners with this planning project include Mobolaji E. Famuyide from the Division of New Born Medicine at the UM Medical Center, Aurelia Jones-Taylor with the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Services Center in Clarksdale, and other health centers in the Delta region.