Considered nationally as a key strategy to improve public health, a higher percentage of babies born in New Jersey are being breastfed at some point during the early stages of life.

But it's keeping up with nursing that appears to be the bigger challenge in the Garden State.

Polka Dot Images, ThinkStock

According to a 2016 report card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks progress as it relates to nationwide targets for the year 2020, New Jersey has already surpassed the goal that at least 81.9 percent of babies are "ever breastfed," along with more than 25 other states.

Despite the high initiation rate, New Jersey seeks continued improvement in the areas of breastfeeding duration and exclusivity. According to the report, 52.6 percent and 30.2 percent of New Jersey babies are breastfed at six months and 12 months respectively. The six-month target for 2020 is 60.6 percent; the one-year target is 34.1 percent.

New Jersey also falls a few points short in the categories of exclusive breastfeeding at three and six months.

According to Mary Lou Moramarco, co-president of the New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition, many New Jersey mothers struggle to keep up with nursing over time because the state's high cost of living forces them to return to work after just a handful of weeks spent home with their newborns.

"Many of these women don't have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom for any length of time," said Moramarco, who's been a volunteer for La Leche League International, a mother-to-mother support program, for more than 20 years. "You finally have gotten that supply-and-demand, mother-baby response and dance down pat, and you're separated because you're going back to work."

To avoid an outright stoppage of breastfeeding by mothers upon returning to work, federal law requires certain employers to allow nursing mothers some time and space to pump their milk during the work day.

At approximately 40 percent, New Jersey's high C-section rate also affects mothers' chances of creating a breastfeeding rhythm, Moramarco added. Some mothers need time to recover from major surgery and miss out on quality bonding time with their infant.

"The mothers who have had epidurals and are recovering from a drug-managed birth are also dealing with sleepy babies when they're born," Moramarco said. "There's a lot of things that hospitals are doing that kind of interrupt the normal chain of events that happen once a baby is born and is able to do the necessary human cuing to get breastfeeding off to a good start."

New Jersey hospitals considered Baby-Friendly - a global designation - still make skin-to-skin contact a priority between mother and baby immediately after surgery, if possible.

According to NJBC, seven New Jersey hospitals have achieved the 10 steps to be officially recognized as Baby-Friendly.

At one of those hospitals - Capital Health Medical System-Hopewell - the latest statistics show the exclusive breastfeeding rate is 64 percent, according to Diane Procaccini, coordinator of the facility's lactation consultants.

If a mother, when asked, says she intends to formula feed her child, hospital staff will see if she is interested in learning more about breastfeeding and the risks of formula feeding, Procaccini said.

"The risk of giving a foreign protein to a baby is eczema rash, vomiting, diarrhea," she said, along with a higher risk of obesity, diabetes and ear infections. "We've done so much research now on breastfeeding and formula feeding that it's pretty clear that there are really risks to giving formula, and we really discourage it."

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