Celebrating World Breastfeeding Week in Milwaukee, Wis.

During this year’s World Breastfeeding Week (and always,) WABA called on us to forge purposeful partnerships to “attract political support, media attention, participation of young people and widen our pool of celebrants and supporters” in an effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030.

Logo designed by Ammar Khalifa and commissioned by WABA which owns the copyright.

This year’s WBW celebrated the enormity of breastfeeding; the way it affects all aspects of our existence, and how the way we exist affects breastfeeding. It celebrated the strides we take when we form partnerships and work together.

Milwaukee County Breastfeeding Coalition’s (MCBC) annual community breastfeeding walk and Big Latch On to celebrate WBW exemplified how we come together to promote and sustain breastfeeding, healthy families and healthy communities.

Long-time MCBC partner Alice’s Garden– a two-acre spring of bounty on Milwaukee’s Northside– received the roughly 50 walk participants who proudly paraded informative breastfeeding signs on a short jaunt to Fondy Farmers Market, another long-time partner.

“Any effort to bring humanity back to all things natural is something I want to be a part of,” Venice Williams, executive director of Alice’s Garden said.

At Fondy, participants mingled amidst the jovial beats of Lucky Diop’s drum circle.

Seven mother child couplets (including George and myself) gathered for The Global BIG Latch On. Globally, over 50,000 people attended registered Latch On locations. MCBC volunteers and participants visited and enjoyed tea infused with herbs from Alice’s Garden.

Nancy Castro, program manager of City of Milwaukee WIC  handed out coloring books and crayons, copies of the magazine Chop Chop and other farmers’ market information.

“Only positive things can come from breastfeeding,” she said. Castro expressed disappointment that there weren’t more event attendees.

County supervisor Sheldon Wasserman, MD, FACOG and his wife Wendy Wasserman attended the celebration; and like Castro, Dr. Wasserman announced that he wished there were more walk participants in attendance.

During his address, Dr. Wasserman remembered Wisconsin women who were arrested for indecency while publicly breastfeeding before a 2010 state statute was passed which gives women the legal right to breastfeed in public in our state.

He told attendees that we’ve come far from that terrible time, acknowledging the progress we’ve made protecting and supporting breastfeeding families.

Still, Hunger Task Force ACCESS Program Manager Martha Collins pointed out that Milwaukee is known for many disparities; maternal child health one of them.

Hunger Task Force is an organization working to prevent hunger and malnutrition by providing food to people in need and promoting social policies.

Last month the CDC released Racial and Geographic Differences in Breastfeeding in the U.S. from 2011-2015 which shows that Wisconsin suffers the highest percentage point difference between white and black infants in exclusive breastfeeding through 6 months, at 17.8 percent. That’s compared to a low of 4.2 percent in Rhode Island.

In a newsletter honoring WBW, Kimberly Seals Allers wonders if breastfeeding has the capacity to endure as women continue to face complex structural, cultural and societal barriers. She draws special attention to racial disparities in health. Does breastfeeding have the capacity to endure here in Milwaukee? 

MCBC Board Member Lindsay Kohut, MS, RDN, CD, CLC says ‘yes.’

“Breastfeeding stats are trending upwards as moms encounter positive breastfeeding messages in a wider variety of settings,” Kohut begins. “No longer simply recommended at the OB’s office, breastfeeding is a being supported in the community through the WIC program and organizations like 9 to 5 Wisconsin and the African American Breastfeeding Network.  Continuing to work towards making breastfeeding support pervasive through the community is something that I see as key to normalizing breastfeeding.”

Seals Allers continues in regard to this year’s WBW theme: “Ultimately sustainability is a complex balancing act, a dynamic process of maintaining the good (like the improvement in overall initiation rates) and continuing to aggressively and intentionally eradicate the bad.  Ultimately, in order for breastfeeding to be sustained,  it must be transformed–on a policy, cultural, community and individual level. Only with radical transformation can we achieve a breastfeeding experience for all that is truly worth sustaining.”

While the walk and Big Latch On attendance was comparatively low, it seemed that we were part of something big, something with traction, something with the potential to sustain the good.

MCBC volunteer Sally Callan pointed out that the celebration at Fondy “offers us all a chance to connect.”

She directed our attention to the voting registration table; policy and legislation are vital to our breastfeeding success. Mothers need access to healthy food so that we can provide for our families; Fondy participates in Wisconsin’s FoodShare benefits. Callan supplied appropriate receptacles for landfill, recycle and compost at the event; we have an obligation to care for the planet we rely upon.

Small details surrounding the event amount to potentially big implications, especially in a city with deplorable health disparities.

According to the 2015-2016 City of Milwaukee Community Health Assessment, even though “…Milwaukee has Wisconsin’s most concentrated health resources, health disparities are also the most pronounced.”

The report goes on, “Milwaukee has higher than state average rates of infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, cancer (breast, cervical, lung, and prostate), violence, teen pregnancy, childhood lead poisoning, and mortality due to unintentional injuries. The Milwaukee [Metropolitan Statistical Area] MSA is also the most racially segregated MSA in the nation.”

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