CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although more mothers seem to be breastfeeding, West Virginia still lags behind the national average, new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.
Over the past decade, breastfeeding rates nationwide have been trending upward. The number of mothers who started their newborns out on breast milk stood at 71 percent in 2000. In 2010, the number had climbed to 77 percent.
But a state-by-state analysis shows West Virginia rounding out the bottom five states for the number of babies that have ever breastfed, at 60.6 percent.
Only Mississippi at 50.5, Kentucky at 52.6, Tennessee at 59.6 and Alabama at 60.4 percent ranked lower, according to the CDC's 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card, which reports statistics from 2010.
The report was released Wednesday, just prior to World Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 1-7).
Christine Compton, co-founder and manager of West Virginia Breastfeeding Alliance, said there are multiple reasons West Virginia is behind other states.
"In the '40s and '50s, when women went to work, it was a status symbol for them to be able to afford formula. Women don't want to be seen as poor," she said.
"Also in West Virginia, there are supplemental family members who help with children, so it's hard to keep mother and baby together," she said.
Also complicating the situation is a higher-than-average rate of new mothers who smoke and use drugs, she said.
Many mothers also see formula feeding as easier because of the initial learning curve associated with breastfeeding.
"Really, breastfeeding is the easy way. You don't have to clean or mix, measure, sterilize, go purchase. Once you get the hang of it, it's much easier. In the beginning, there can be complications," Compton said.
"It's so much easier to breastfeed because there are complications as far as socioeconomic status goes — it may be harder to purchase formula, transportation is limited, and WIC doesn't provide everything."
Stephanie Whitney, breastfeeding coordinator for West Virginia WIC, said that while WIC does provide supplemental support for formula, it also encourages breastfeeding.
"We do speak to the mom at length about encouraging them to breastfeed. Unfortunately, there are times when mothers have made up their minds — maybe for cultural or family reasons — but we give information on both," Whitney said.
"But there are a multitude of advantages for breastfeeding — simply bonding with the baby, protecting against osteoporosis, ovarian cancer. It helps the kids defend against colds, viruses and allergies. Other studies show it helps improve IQ. It's something we're trying to increase."