Breastfeeding peer counselor drives community-led change in Mississippi Delta

The culture shift that Brittany Isler, CLC contributes to is not billboard flashy, not Hollywood influential nor commercial tokenism. The work that Isler is doing is authentic and sustainable. Her energy as “The Breastfeeding Girl” radiates through her small town of Cleveland, Miss. touching families in various ways, driving community-led impact. 

Isler is the mother of an eight-, five- and one-year-old. She did not breastfeed her oldest child because she says she didn’t know anything about it. It wasn’t until an early postpartum appointment that she received a pamphlet on breastfeeding, but she says it felt like it was too late to get started at that point. 

“If I ever get pregnant again, I really want to breastfeed,” Isler remembers thinking.

Soon, she started researching infant feeding and landed a great peer counselor. When her second baby was born and spent over a week in the NICU, she knew to express milk for him. They went on to breastfeed for three and a half years.

During this time, Isler affectionately became “The Breastfeeding Girl” among her community as she documented her experiences and breastfeeding photos on Facebook.  

In a community with low breastfeeding rates, Isler sparked curiosity, answered questions and started a Facebook peer support group.

During church one Sunday morning, while Isler nursed her son, the former pastor shared in his announcement that “breasts are made for breastfeeding”, publicly celebrating that what Isler was doing is natural and normal.  

Isler participates in local Baby Cafes, facilitates community baby showers, and attends breastfeeding classes so that expecting parents can experience the invaluable teaching tool of breastfeeding in action with live models. 

She became a WIC Peer Counselor in January 2020.

“Brittany is doing exceptional work outside of the normal WIC hours,” Delta Health Alliance  Breastfeeding Coordinator  Jacqueline Lambert, CLC,CCE,CD praises Isler.  “She goes far and beyond to serve her families making hospital rounds, home visits and participating in community events.”

Lambert continues, “Brittany is always seeking and looking for opportunities to educate herself more around the latest research in breastfeeding.” 

Isler earned the Accessing the Milky Way scholarship and just completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC)

“I love,  love, love the training,” Isler reports. “I can do it at my own pace and the instructors are amazing…My favorite thing is the song!” 

[“When you counsel, when you counsel 

Never judge, never judge

Praise mother and baby, praise mother and baby 

Don’t command, do suggest” 

Sung to the tune of Frère Jacques for those of you unfamiliar.]   

In this spirit, Isler says, “Let it be known too that I do teach about formula-feeding as well. I support moms whatever their choice is. My goal is to ensure that formula feeding is done safely, prepared and stored properly.”  

Isler comes from a family of teachers, so she anticipated that she would become one too, she explains. 

“I guess I’m a teacher in another way,” Isler reflects. 

“My main goal is to just keep looking for ways to educate myself,” she says. 

Some of that education includes unlearning. 

 “I’m dispelling myths and starting to replace them with facts.” 

The fact is that “… exposure to breastfeeding is linked to more positive attitudes toward breastfeeding (including public breastfeeding) and a greater intent to breastfeed one’s own child …” (Austen, Dignam & Hauf, 2016, p. 2).

Isler acknowledges that infant feeding method isn’t always a choice; sometimes it’s decided for parents depending on where they live, what they see, and what care they have access to. Her approach is to populate her community with breastfeeding dyads with the ultimate goal of healthy future generations.

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