Latina Mom and Baby Health Research: Policy Implications

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This is part of our Latina Mom and Baby Health: A Research Review »

Conclusions

  • Early infant feeding habits surrounding breastfeeding and formula supplementation can impact childhood obesity among Latino youths. State and federal policies may be able to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates and duration by promoting support for breastfeeding in hospitals, childcare centers, workplaces, schools and public areas.
  • Latina women may not be meeting recommendations for physical activity and/or gestational weight gain during pregnancy, and there is a need for increased education of expectant Latina mothers by their physicians. By increasing physical activity and reducing gestational weight gain (GWG) during pregnancy, childhood obesity rates may be positively affected.
  • As poor eating and physical activity habits are prevalent in Latino parents of infants as young as 2 months of age, efforts to educate parents on the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity are necessary. In addition to parents, childcare centers and providers are an important resource for promoting obesity prevention measures in early childhood. Childcare providers should encourage age-appropriate eating and physical activity requirements for all children in their care and should help to educate parents in these areas as well.
  • Additional studies will be necessary to confirm the positive effects of paid leave on breastfeeding and childhood obesity specifically within Latino populations.
  • Pre-delivery interventions, such as the Nurse Family Partnership program that pairs a nurse with a low-income, first-time mother, have been shown to improve several perinatal outcomes. Studies focused on Latino populations and obesity-related outcomes are needed. Pre-delivery interventions may be an ideal way to increase education regarding the importance of breastfeeding and the negative effects of childhood obesity.
  • WIC policy updates in 2009 were designed to encourage breastfeeding over formula feeding and increase accessibility to healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, among low-income populations. As some reports are beginning to show improvements in breastfeeding rates and healthier eating habits overall following the WIC policy update, it will be important for studies to determine whether these results have extended specifically to Latina mothers and children.
  • Formula marketing in hospitals and medical facilities can lower breastfeeding rates among new mothers. Interventions aimed at reducing or eliminating formula marketing in these settings may help increase breastfeeding rates among Latina mothers, which may result in improvements in childhood obesity.

Policy implications

  • Expansion and enforcement of state and federal policies promoting breastfeeding in hospitals, childcare centers, workplaces, schools, and public areas have the potential to continue improving breastfeeding rates across the U.S. These policies may help to increase breastfeeding awareness, alleviate associated stigmas, reduce the potential for discrimination, and provide safe, private spaces for women to breastfeed and express breast milk for their infants.
  • Physician-directed communication with pregnant mothers may be beneficial for increasing awareness of the importance of physical activity during pregnancy and safe GWG levels. Health care practitioner-driven education of pregnant mothers may help to overcome any inaccurate cultural assumptions that currently encourage unsafe GWG and sedentary behaviors in Latina mothers. Continued education efforts directed at parents following childbirth may also promote awareness of the ongoing benefits of establishing healthy eating and physical activity habits during infancy and early childhood.
  • Policies promoting nutrition and physical activity standards across state, federal, private, and home-based U.S. childcare centers may help to reduce rates of obesity in infants and preschool-aged children. Evidence from federal Head Start programs has shown that these interventions can positively affect childhood obesity. Enforcing national standards and increasing the availability of universal pre-K programs may help to extend these benefits to a larger population of U.S. children. Reaching final approval and implementation of the USDA’s proposed updates to CACFP meal patterns represents one important means of promoting access to healthy, balanced meals in the childcare setting.
  • Policies offering paid parental leave after childbirth have been shown to have a positive impact on breastfeeding initiation and duration rates across the U.S. Given the correlation between lack of breastfeeding and childhood obesity, this is a critical area for improving the obesity epidemic among Latinos, especially among low-income families where unpaid leave is not typically a viable option and mothers are often driven to discontinue breastfeeding to return to work.
  • Pre-delivery educational programs for pregnant women aimed at increasing awareness of the negative effects of obesity and the benefits of breastfeeding may help to encourage women to develop pre-delivery plans to breastfeed. Strategies should aim to increase awareness of international recommendations for exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months of a child’s life and continued breastfeeding for at least 1 year postpartum. In addition, culturally appropriate educational interventions may help to decrease improper feeding practices that may be particularly common among Latina women, such as bottle propping, too-early introduction to solid foods, or encouraging infants to finish their bottles even if full. Pre-delivery educational programs may also encourage parents to engage in healthier nutrition and exercise behaviors postpartum.
  • Efforts should also be made to eliminate both direct and inadvertent formula marketing from hospital and medical office settings. Recommendations from the AAP and WHO/UNICEF surrounding formula marketing and discharge packs should be better enforced in these settings in order to send a clear message to mothers that breastfeeding is encouraged.

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By The Numbers By The Numbers

22

percent

of Latino youth have depressive symptoms, more than any other group besides Native American youth

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