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Opportunities for OT in breastfeeding promotion: environmental & contextual interventions

Opportunities for OT in breastfeeding promotion: environmental & contextual interventions
Jennifer Pitonyak, PhD, OTR/L, SCFES, CIMI
January 2, 2014

This text based course is a transcript of the live webinar tiltled "Opportunities for OT in breastfeeding promotion: environmental & contextual interventions" presented by Jennifer Pitonyak, PhD, OTR/L, SCFES, CIMI.

>> Jennifer Pitonyak:  I am very excited to share with you my interest in breastfeeding promotion and the role and opportunities for OT.  My own interest evolved from my clinical practice in the NICU and early intervention settings where I addressed feeding difficulties, as well as from my personal experience.  More recently in my doctoral study in health policy, I began to integrate my practical experience with research and policy in this area. 


This presentation today will apply evidence to inform day-to-day OT practice in settings like the NICU and early intervention, I also view this as an emerging practice area where we can expand outside of those settings into wellness and  promotion.  My intent is to share evidence about the health benefits of breastfeeding and results from my own descriptive exploratory dissertation study.  This knowledge about relationships between environmental and contextual factors and breastfeeding is really necessary to help us inform the future development of effective interventions and programs for breast-feeding promotion.  This may be a new practice area for us to move into as occupational therapists.

Learning Objectives

As I mentioned, part of what I am presenting today is original research and research in progress.  It is initial results from a descriptive exploratory study with the purpose of describing environmental and contextual factors related to successful breastfeeding for at least four months and identifying the factors that are facilitators or risks for the health behavior of breastfeeding.  This type of descriptive and exploratory research is helpful to us as occupational therapists to have a better understanding of the person, the client, and those factors in their surrounding environments to develop more clear interventions.   

Benefits of Breastfeeding


The research on breastfeeding clearly documents that there is nutritional, immunological, and developmental benefits of human milk consumption.  In addition there are social, economic, and environmental advantages for families and for society when infants are fed human milk.  More specifically, there is substantial evidence to show that infants who are breastfed have lower incidence of respiratory tract infection, ear infection, and sepsis particularly in premature infants.  There are protective effects of breastfeeding against gastroenteritis and diarrheal diseases.  Some of these protective benefits are even more observable in developing countries, but we are also observing these benefits in the United States and developed countries.  Beyond disease, there are also benefits for more long-term health.  There are lower rates of obesity and asthma for the individual.  There are also some newer studies that are showing that breastfeeding is protective against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  There is also a body of literature that identifies the developmental benefits of breastfeeding that shows that there are relationships between breastfeeding and intelligence and motor and cognitive development of the infant. 

One of the interesting things to consider in this substantial body of literature is that researchers have looked at this relationship in different ways.  They have looked at the protective benefit of breastfeeding, as well as, the risks of feeding artificial formula in relationship to these health outcomes.  We do not often think about the risk of feeding artificial formula.  I will talk a little bit more about that later as it can be a difficult health conversation. 

jennifer pitonyak

Jennifer Pitonyak, PhD, OTR/L, SCFES, CIMI

Jennifer Pitonyak has over 14 years of clinical experience as an occupational therapist in a diversity of practice settings, including early intervention and the neonatal intensive care unit.  She holds specialty certification in feeding, eating, and swallowing from AOTA, and is a Certified Infant Massage Instructor.  She is currently on the faculty at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, where in addition to teaching, she collaborates with community partners to develop occupational therapy programs for infants and families.  She recently completed doctoral studies in health policy with research on the social and contextual factors that impact breastfeeding duration.  Her clinical and research interests include infant and family mental health.  

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