Race And Culture Contribute To Idaho's Growing Trend Of Breastfeeding

By Emilie Ritter Saunders

A larger share of Idaho women breastfeed their babies than anywhere else in the country. That’s according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Idaho’s culture and racial makeup could be contributing to the trend.

Rachel Gootchey is standing on a picnic table bench. The top of her sundress is pulled down, and her 10 month old son Jasper has just latched onto her breast for a mid-morning snack. Gootchey and about 40 other Boise-area moms are participating in the big latch on. 

About 40 Boise-area moms participated in the La Leche League of Treasure Valley latch-on. Photo by Emilie Ritter Saunders.Groups of women around the world nurse their babies for one minute. Each participating mom at this Boise park has her hand raised in the air, and counters keep track of the number of women who successfully latch.

Gootchey is a La Leche League leader in Boise. It’s a support group for breastfeeding moms. She breastfed her first child for 15 months, and she’s still nursing her second. She was also raised by a mom who breastfed...

Gootchey: “And honestly, one of the biggest deciding factors was it’s just cheaper. It’s free! It would be crazy to decide to pay for something that I can do for free…there’s no greater reason behind it than that -- I’m a cheapskate, so I breastfeed.”
Photo: About 40 Boise-area moms participated in the La Leche League of Treasure Valley latch-on. Photo by Emilie Ritter Saunders.

MarLee Harris is Idaho’s WIC breastfeeding coordinator. That’s the federal food supplement program for women, infants and children.

Harris: “Breastfeeding is one of the greatest ways to provide for your family and be self-reliant.”

Rachel Gootchey has been nursing her 10-month-old son Jasper since he was born. Photo by Emilie Ritter Saunders.Many western states, including Idaho are known for being do-it-yourself places. The states with the highest rates of breastfeeding are in the West and New England.

Centers for Disease Control research fellow Jessica Allen says race is another contributing factor to breastfeeding rates. A CDC report released earlier this year found Hispanics are more likely to nurse their babies than whites or blacks. Allen says depending on where you live, how you were raised, or what color your skin is, could make a difference in the kinds of barriers that are in the way of breastfeeding.

Allen: “Some women are more likely to come across barriers, they’re more likely to not have support at home, or support in their workplace…it might just be that women in Idaho aren’t even facing the barriers to support women in other places have.”

Allen says it’s also about hospital policies, which vary greatly. Take the moment when a baby is born. The CDC recommends that newborns be placed on their mother’s bare chest right after birth – within the first hour. In New Hampshire, 90% of hospitals implement skin-to-skin contact. In Idaho, it’s 55%. In Mississippi – the state with the lowest breastfeeding rates -- it’s 27%.

Photo: Rachel Gootchey has been nursing her 10-month-old son Jasper since he was born. Photo by Emilie Ritter Saunders.

Back at the La Leche League of Treasure Valley’s latch-on picnic, many moms say breastfeeding is most successful when there’s a supportive community around them.

For Rachel Gootchey, Idaho moms fit the mold of the natural lifestyle. She says "“We’re kind of crunchy, we’re into organics, we’re into what’s natural so many moms cloth diaper. We’re all about doing what’s best for your body. I think in the PNW there is a little more movement to kind of go the extra mile.”

Still, Gootchey and medical experts point out while breastfeeding is the primo option for babies and moms – Gootchey says the most important thing is that women are informed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends women nurse for at least one year, and continue for as long as it’s the right thing for mom and baby.

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