MISSOULA, Mont. -

Recent national statistics show that by the third grade, nearly a third of U.S. children are considered obese and that childhood obesity rates have tripled since the 1970s.

Michelle Obama is leading the way as federal, state and county governments are making it a priority to reduce the weight of our youngsters.

In Missoula, health officials are introducing a comprehensive plan to fight childhood obesity.

One main point is urging all mothers to only breast-feed their infants for 6 months. Health officials say it wards off a long list of diseases and ailments, including childhood and adult obesity.

Mary Pittaway, of the Missoula City/County Health Department says it regulates the feeling of fullness, "The baby lets the mom know when he or she is hungry, and also lets the mom know when he or she has had enough breast milk."

Jacalyn McCoy, a registered nurse and internationally certified lactation consultant at Community Medical Center tells NBC Montana, "There is a lot of new information about a reduction in childhood obesity. Babies who are breast-fed learn how to regulate what they eat better. The way they digest their food is different."

McCoy and other certified specialists at Community Medical Center also urge mothers to only breast-feed for six months, then continue to include breast milk with other foods for a year. Community Medical Center says breast-feeding reduces the risk of obesity, diabetes, childhood cancers, SIDS and a host of other issues. Experts also say a mom who breast-feeds has a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers, cardiac problems, diabetes, osteoporosis and spine and hip fractures.

However, McCoy says it's not feasible for every mother and can be extremely difficult. "It can be painful. It can be hard to watch your baby. It can sometimes take three to five days for your milk to come in." The No. 1 reason a mother stops is because they think their baby isn't getting enough. The number two reason is pain."

Community Medical Center supports the choice of the mother to use formula or breast milk and offers special breast-feeding services for mothers who have already taken their babies home. McCoy adds, "It's our job to try to help educate them and try to get them through those first few days and even weeks. I would urge new mothers to try to breas-tfeed and get as much help and support as they possibly can in those first few days and first few weeks."

The Missoula City-County Health Department is trying to break down family, social and employment barriers to breast-feeding mothers.

Rebecca Morley is the Eat Smart Coordinator for the Missoula City-County Health Department and says officials know that breastfeeding can be difficult, "...that's what we are trying to help moms overcome; the lack of encouragement from other family members, from the whole social norming process. We don't want moms to feel embarrassed to breast-feed, no matter where they are when the baby is hungry. So, that whole comfort level for the mother has to increase. That way, the mom will be able to breas-tfeed for the first six months without experiencing the problems they are up against right now."

Many mothers return to work in six weeks. Breast-feeding counselor Terry Miller says one new county program is working with larger businesses to encourage breastfeeding, "The Missoula Health Department's Breast-feeding Work Campaign helps a mom transition back to work. The program provides larger businesses a breast pump, services, classes and counseling."

More information is available through the Eat Smart program at the Missoula City-County Health Department.