Research Highlight- My name is Lea Pounds, and I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Promotion at the UNMC College of Public Health. I conduct research related to breastfeeding with a focus on understanding the barriers to longer breastfeeding duration and exclusivity. Human milk provides optimum nutrition for infants and has health benefits for babies and moms as well as economic benefits for society. Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as childhood obesity as well as the risk of acute conditions among infants such as gastrointestinal illness. There is also evidence that breastfeeding is protective against certain types of cancer in mothers. If 90% of mothers with infants met the WHO recommendations for exclusive breastfeeding for six months, it’s estimated that the U.S. would save $13 billion per year in health care costs. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, only 18% of infants are fed breast milk exclusively at six months old. There are many barriers to achieving the Healthy People 2020 objective of 25% of infants fed breast milk exclusively at six months.
My most recent breastfeeding project involved analyzing data from the CDCs Pregnancy Risk Assessment and Monitoring Survey (PRAMS). One of our findings showed that of the modifiable factors associated with quitting breastfeeding within specific time points in the post-partum period, the majority of factors were related to healthcare practices while mom and baby are still in the hospital. These factors aligned with the Ten Steps to Breastfeeding Success endorsed by the WHO and provider professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. Working with the College of Medicine and the Nebraska Perinatal Quality Improvement Collaborative, we’ve submitted a grant application explore the barriers to implementing these evidence-based best practices in Nebraska’s critical access hospitals that provide birthing services.
We also looked at the reasons mothers give for quitting breastfeeding and identified reasons given within specific time points in the post-partum period. The next step is to develop a predictive model that lactation specialists can use to identify mothers who are likely to quit at specific time points in the post-partum period so they can proactively address the reasons for quitting before they become insurmountable barriers for individual mothers. We have a partner in Mississippi that will work with us to pilot the predictive model.
I am primarily a qualitative researcher and am often invited to participate in other faculty’s research projects to handle qualitative components of the work. My most recent qualitative work includes conducting focus groups as part of the Trauma Informed Community Initiative. The College of Public Health collaborated with Project Harmony to undertake a baseline assessment of five sectors in Omaha. Dr. JY Kim, the project PI for UNMC, conducted a survey and I did follow up focus groups with representatives from each sector to explore the gaps raised by the organizational assessment survey. I have also been working with College of Medicine conducting focus groups for educational assessments, most notably working with Dr. Kelly Caverzagie and his team to develop a Clinical Learning Environment assessment tool that is currently being distributed to all faculty, staff, students, and residents that provide direct patient care at Nebraska Medicine facilities.
This article was written by Lea Pounds, Ph.D., MBA, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Promotion, College of Public Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center.