Early Head Start program encourages breastfeeding

Natilee Novak, Kishia Brown, and Jackie Rivera are all devoted coworkers at the Central Missouri Community Action Early Head Start program. They are also Certified Lactation Counselors (CLC) and attended this year’s International Breastfeeding Conference in Orlando together. This week, they’ve joined us on Our Milky Way to share the work they are doing in their community.unnamed-2

What inspired you to take The Lactation Counselor Training Course?

KB: Breastfeeding my own daughter was the most amazing and challenging experience! It gave me such a feeling of empowerment and I want to share that feeling with our Head Start families.

NN: The experiences I had breastfeeding my daughter. I faced a few challenges, but it was the most amazing experience.

JR: To support low income families.

What did you find to be the most surprising thing about the course?

KB: We learned so many interesting facts. For example, your body makes different milk for a boy or a girl, or at different stages of development, or if you are nursing and pregnant your milk will revert back to colostrum. So many interesting pieces of information that just reinforce the fact that our bodies were made to make milk for our babies. And there is nothing else like our milk! Also, we learned things that contradicted what I had previously been taught. For example, the idea of hind milk and foremilk that I was taught is actually not accurate. I was literally engaged through the entire training program. I kind of thought, “How will we talk about breast milk for a whole week?” But at the end of the week, I feel like we could have kept going!

NN: Truthfully, all there is to know about breastfeeding! I am fascinated by the science of how it all works.

JR: The amount of information.

How do  you use what you learned in the CLC course in the work you do with the Early Head Start Program?

KB: I work with teen families in our school district. We partner with Parents as Teachers and they hold a class twice a week for pregnant and parenting teens. Every semester I lead one class to talk about breastfeeding. After coming back from this last conference, I asked them if I could take four classes during one month to discuss infant feeding. I’ve been able to go into the hospital with some of the girls and help them within their first couple of days. There were girls that didn’t necessarily need a consult, but just needed a sounding board. All of the knowledge I gained from the CLC course has really given me the confidence to really encourage them and give them the most current information, as well. Outside of working with the families, we’ve done in­service training for our staff. We’ve done training at prenatal group meetings. We’ve also had informational booths at different events.

NN: Personally I use it when I’m visiting classrooms and staff have questions or home visitors have questions from the moms they visit. Collectively we have a breastfeeding hotline that is available to any family in our program as well as the staff within our agency. Anyone can call with questions or can request to be seen.

Are there any breastfeeding encounters from your work that stick out in your mind?

KB: Most recently, there was a teen that was in the hospital with her day or two old baby. They called because she was in a lot of pain and ready to give up. They felt that the lactation consultant at the hospital did not seem overly concerned. She was open to a consult, so I went to go talk with her. We worked on her latch and by the time I left her pain literally went completely away. I saw her at a group meeting a few weeks later nursing her baby (in public, I should note). Another teen asked her, “How do you do it? That hurt too bad. I couldn’t keep doing that with my baby.” The girl said, “Well, you should have called Kishia. After she came, it didn’t hurt anymore.” I was so happy that I was able to help out a teen, but more than anything I was excited that she was sharing her story. That it is possible to reach out and get help and continue to give your baby the best milk possible.

NN: Recently Kishia and I worked a breastfeeding awareness booth at a parent event. Parents had the opportunity to walk around to different booths to gather information about different health topics. Each parent that walked up we asked if they currently were breastfeeding or had ever breastfed. I remember this dad that said “yes we breastfeed.” Not a response we were expecting but we quickly gave him some praise for being so supportive.

How would you describe your clients’ overall outlook on/ understanding of breastfeeding?

KB: In the teen population, an overwhelming majority of them do not breastfeed. They understand that breast milk is good. But a lot of these girls just developed breasts not that long ago. They are not that comfortable talking about it and definitely not comfortable latching on a baby. Each year it seems like more and more girls are at least interested and asking questions about it. But we still have a long way to go.

NN: I think we surprise a lot of people. In training our staff we saw a lot of light bulbs go off. It truly has been a lot of fun.

JR: They have great intentions but often stop between 3-7 days.

What kind of challenges do the clients you work with face?

KB: One of my biggest challenges is that the teens’ peers think breastfeeding is weird or even gross. I was walking in the halls at school with a teen mom one day. Her baby was just a few weeks old and she came up to meet with her guidance counselor. One of her friends came up and was asking about her baby. The teen mom told her friend that she was breastfeeding. The girl replied, “That’s gross!” That lack of understanding and support make it so difficult for the girls to choose to breastfeed and to continue to breastfeed.

NN: I would say with the women I’ve worked with so far, that lack of support and resources have been not conducive to successful breastfeeding.

JR: Low literacy.

How do you work with the Early Head Start Child Care Partners on how to be supportive of breastfeeding?

KB: EHS child care partners attend the “Breastfeeding 101” training that we give the staff. And they are asked to have a breastfeeding friendly space in their facilities for families, as well.

NN: We offer our hotline support as well as training to the staff within the EHS Child Care Partners.

Are you currently working on any projects that you’d like to highlight?

KB: Our local health department is really working hard to promote breastfeeding in our community. They’ve recently started a new support group to African American mothers called “Chocolate Milk Café.” I’ve enjoyed building a relationship with their facilitator and even leading a group. They’ve asked me to sit on their breastfeeding coalition that meets with the hospitals and state breastfeeding coordinator.

How can Our Milky Way readers get involved with your work?

KB: It you want an amazing volunteer opportunity and the chance to get involved in something amazing, then check out your local Head Start. This year, Head Start is celebrating its 50th anniversary!

NN: The number one way to get involved with our work is to find your local Head Start or Early Head Start and volunteer! Spread the word about our program.

What was the most important thing you took away from this year’s International Breastfeeding Conference in Orlando?

KB: Several of the breakout sessions and plenary gave me great ideas of activities to use in our group meetings. I loved hearing about new research from so many amazing people. But the most important thing was that the conference got me fired up about breastfeeding. It was incredible to be there with so many people from all over the country excited about the same thing and working hard toward the same goal.

NN: I think just seeing how passionate others are about breastfeeding was uplifting. I enjoyed hearing about the latest research and ways others are supporting breastfeeding within their day to day operations.

JR: Working with African American families.  [The International Breastfeeding Conference featured speakers who addressed the importance of reducing racial disparities in breastfeeding by providing culturally relevant breastfeeding support.]

You can find CMCA Head Start on Facebook, Twitter @CMCADarin, YouTube and Pinterest.

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