Jaelene Christofferson and her son, Tommy, celebrate breastfeeding at a World Breastfeeding Week event at the KANA WIC office at the Mill Bay Health Center, Thursday. JoAnn Snoderly/Kodiak Daily Mirror

The Kodiak Area Native Association Women, Infants and Children program celebrated World Breastfeeding Week Thursday with good reason — in the last fiscal year, Kodiak’s WIC mothers had the highest breastfeeding initiation rate in the state.

Boroughwide, 90 percent of women in the KANA WIC program started breastfeeding after the birth of a child. Of those who initiated, 93 percent were still breastfeeding a month later, according to KANA WIC coordinator and international board certified lactation consultant Stephanie Jenkins.

Statewide, 33 percent of Alaskan mothers who begin breastfeeding stop before the child is four weeks old, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Jenkins credits an open and supportive community, breastfeeding education through WIC and Kodiak KINDNESS, a Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center program that offers new mothers breastfeeding support for up to 18 months, for Kodiak’s high breastfeeding rates.

“Our numbers … in the community, not just with WIC but breastfeeding rates in the community in general, are so high, that the proof is in the pudding,” she said. “If we didn’t have all these different resources, things might not be going as well.”

While factors including difficulty latching, pain or low milk supply keep some mothers from continuing to breastfeed, attendees of yesterday’s WIC event said the benefits outweigh the negatives.

Jaelene Christofferson, who attended with her 13-month-old son, Tommy, said she breastfeeds because it is easier and cheaper than using formula, and is healthier.

“I know it’s best for my baby and I was determined to make it work,” she said.

Attendee Haley Ogrinc, expecting her first child, said she is concerned about some of the ingredients in baby formulas.

According to Jenkins, children who are breastfed in their first six months have higher IQs, fewer ear and urinary tract infections, fewer allergies, lower obesity rates and a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

Babies breastfed for one year are half as likely to develop diabetes.

Breastfeeding can also have benefits for the mother, as studies have shown it can reduce the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also burns calories, accelerating post-pregnancy weight loss.

Attendees of the event received prizes donated by Island Espresso, The Beauty Bar, A Balanced Approach, Safeway and Leading Lady Bras and were able to share breastfeeding stories, concerns and advice.

“The whole point of World Breastfeeding Week is just to celebrate breastfeeding and to honor and support all pregnant and breastfeeding moms,” Jenkins said. “Our babies are our future so it’s just so important that they grow up having the best.”

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