A midwife’s namesake and an inspiration, Eira Yates, MSSA, CLC joins Healthy Children Project’s team

Eira Yates (far right) poses with HCP faculty and conference participant at the 2019 International Breastfeeding Conference.

One might say that Eira Yates, MSSA, CLC was destined to work with parents and babies having been named after her mother’s midwife. Yates is one of five children– the only to be accompanied by a midwife during her birth. She teases that this makes her the Special One. 

Yates remembers fondly asking her mother to tell her birth story and stories about her young childhood in innocent vanity and an obvious interest in maternal child health. 

Surely it’s special to have been birthed into the hands of a midwife, but what I find most special about Yates is the loving, vivacious energy she exudes. I can’t help but be drawn to her glow.

She is one of the newest faculty members at Healthy Children Project, and we are pleased to highlight her work this week on Our Milky Way

Yates endured an imperfect experience bringing her son into the world, but managed to process that experience into advocacy for others. 

When she gave birth prematurely as a young mother, she says she knew about breastfeeding, but it wasn’t offered to her as an option in the hospital. And because she wasn’t fully equipped with knowledge about the importance of breastfeeding, she says she didn’t speak up. 

Since then though, she’s been speaking up for others through her work as a social worker. 

“I just knew people needed a voice, especially low income African American women,” Yates says. 

Early in her career, Yates started running the MomsFirst program which offers home visiting services to pregnant moms until two years postpartum through the City of Cleveland.  

Now, Yates travels to the Capitol biannually to speak with politicians about infant mortality and to campaign for more funding that will help sustain programs that decrease mortality rates. 

Because of the opioid epidemic, Yates reports having success in securing funding for these programs. She extols the work of Senator Sherrod Brown who has been instrumental in fighting for and representing his constituents. 

At the end of February 2020, Yates and her colleagues at OhioGuidestone will bring to a close an exciting pilot program that addresses paternal depression. 

The Yates Depression Screening Tool, funded by the city’s mental health board, has similar objectives to the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale

Yates and her colleagues are working with the Ohio Commission on Fatherhood to implement more programs for partners postpartum. 

“We have to make sure there are resources set up for them,” Yates says. 

You can connect with Yates at the upcoming International Breastfeeding Conference January 14 to 17 in Deerfield Beach, Fla. 

Milk ducks on a mission

Backed by insubstantial but irrefutable evidence,  plastic ducks benefit greatly from skin-to-skin contact. Holding plastic ducks skin-to-skin has been shown to increase their likelihood of performing well at the International Breastfeeding Conference’s Milk Duck Races, according to past participants. 

Here’s a breakdown of the race: 

A swarm of buzzing maternal child health advocates surrounds the hotel pool. Guests inconspicuously and perhaps somewhat anxiously glance over their shoulders wondering what could be about to happen. The anticipation lies thick despite a nearby, gentle ocean breeze.

A woman named Kristin raises a loud speaker proudly. She passionately announces Healthy Children Project’s (HCP) International Breastfeeding Conference famous Milk Duck Race.

What follows: A blow up pool filled with well over 100 sleek, plastic ducks is hurled into the water.

The crowd erupts into fervorous cheer, encouraging the ducks to “Swim! Swim faster!”

Hotel guests can’t help but become captivated by the excitement and utter silliness. They create forceful waves urging the ducks closer and closer to their undetermined finish line, although the ducks held skin-to-skin hardly need the extra oomph. 

Former Milk Duck Queens Sheri Garner and Nikki Lee crown the 2016 Milk Duck Queen Cathy Holland.

Alas, only one of the ducks bobs sideways to victory. The duck’s holder is donned Milk Duck Queen or King or their chosen title of nobility. 

Milk Ducks can be purchased each year at the conference for five-bucks-a-duck or five for $20. All proceeds are donated to a cause with a mission of improving maternal child health. Participants have consistently raised around $1,000 each year. Past causes include breast cancer prevention through breastfeeding, solving iron deficiency with Lucky Iron Fish and improving maternity care in Uganda with headlamps.   

This year, the ducks will swim for Our Dream Initiative which aims to optimize early childhood development. More specifically, the ducks will raise money for Our Dream Initiative’s Warm Hug Care which encourages Kangaroo Mother Care as an intervention to reduce infant mortality in Egypt. 

The initiative was created by Dr. Abla Al Alfy, a plenary speaker at the upcoming conference. Dr. Al Alfy will present The First 1000 Days: Our Dream Initiative’s Plan for Transforming Egypt and Kangaroo Care in the Egyptian NICU.

Find out where Milk Ducks are migrating these days here

The early water fowl discount for the International Breastfeeding Conference is just a few weeks away. Register here

Library accommodates families with babies and young children with work-and-play stations

Tap… tap… tap… kjcb siufjkbvkhf… Babies and young children are brilliant and capable little beings, but they have little to no regard for what it means to function efficiently in our fast-paced, demanding world. They are, of course, quite curious too, and the clicking of computer keys coupled with the reaction of their caregiver is always a thrill. Tap… tap… tap… So when parents attempt to complete schoolwork or work at the computer with their little one(s) by their side, it can prove quite daunting. Tap…tap…kjsbdfjhbduhsfbcagquyiuroofhs… 

Photo Credit: Henrico County Public Library

Henrico County Public Library – Fairfield Area Library Community Relations Coordinator Patty Conway and colleagues noticed this challenge: parents attempting to get work done typing one-handed,  balancing a small child on one knee, or “another similarly inconvenient arrangement,” as Conway puts it. 

“We thought that if a computer station existed that allowed a parent to work on the computer next to their child, who could be placed in a comfortable and enclosed playspace, we would be solving a common problem facing many of our library users,” she explains. 

The Computer Work + Play Stations at Fairfield Library conceptualized by library staff were materialized by architects at Quinn Evans and TMC Furniture staff. 

Conway says they anticipated the stations to be well received, but when the library shared the set up on Facebook, they didn’t expect their idea to go viral. 

“The stations are popular and were shared so widely because they meet the needs of parents with small children in libraries.” Conway begins. “On social media, they have also been recognized as being potentially helpful for working parents at home or in other work settings. We were happy to see the positive attention the stations received.”

The stations are still in their pilot phase, so staff continues to gather feedback from the community and may modify the design over time. 

Along with the play stations, Fairfield Area Library offers other family and baby-friendly features and programs.

Conway describes how  picture books are organized in collections called Neighborhoods that group fiction and nonfiction items by subject of interest. 

“The books are shelved on child-sized bins that little ones can search through on their own, with minimal adult assistance,” Conway continues. “Due to the input of one family in particular at the community design planning sessions, the library’s second floor was designed to meet the needs of parents and families with multiple children as they age out of the children’s area into the teen area. The children’s wing on the left side of the second floor is connected to the teen space on the right side of the second floor by an open, central Family Collaboration Zone.”

Photo credit: Henrico County Public Library – Fairfield Area Library

The library offers a Family Comfort Room with a soft rocker, dimmable lighting and a basket of board books, ideal for breastfeeding or calming an overexcited child, as Conway points out. 

“We think it is an engaging and supportive space for families and parents with babies and children of all ages,” she says.

Giving thanks for new evidence

Credit: USBC

Healthy Children Project is thankful for a new study published last week in the Journal of Pediatrics which shows that increased rates of implementation of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) are associated with decreased rates of infant deaths in the first days after birth. 

The study disbands false speculation that hospital-based breastfeeding initiatives increase infant death, as suggested by an organization that spreads harmful messaging about infant feeding.

Baby-Friendly USA, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Trish MacEnroe granted Our Milky Way permission to share their recent publication about Trends in Breastfeeding Interventions, Skin-to-Skin Care, and Sudden Infant Death in the First 6 Days after Birth. 




A new study published this week in the Journal of Pediatrics shows increased rates of implementation of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) are associated with decreased rates of infant deaths in the first 6 days after birth, dispelling speculation that hospital-based breastfeeding initiatives might increase infant death.

Click here to go to the study.

The authors examined trends in the percentage of births in Baby-Friendly designated hospitals between 2004 and 2016, as well as the implementation of skin-to-skin care in the first hour after birth in both the US population and in Massachusetts. They then compared these to trends in Sudden Unexplained Infant Deaths (SUID), including deaths by asphyxia, in the first 6 days after birth, during the same time period.

While there were marked increases in both the percentage of newborns being delivered in Baby-Friendly designated facilities and in the percentage of newborns experiencing skin-to-skin care during this period, there was a significant decrease in deaths due to SUID within the first 6 days after birth.

“Increased implementation rates for skin-to-skin care and the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative are associated with a decrease in SUIDs, both nationally and in Massachusetts. This association may not be causal, but these data also suggest that breastfeeding interventions and skin-to-skin care do not contribute to perinatal deaths on a population level,” the authors state.

Dr. Melissa Bartick, lead author of the study and internist at Cambridge Health Alliance and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, said: “These data come as welcome news and should reassure us that these initiatives are not resulting in any increase in infant deaths – that in fact, just the opposite is true.”

Widespread speculation arose that such interventions could be deadly after a popular opinion piece citing Massachusetts infant mortality data was published in the medical literature in 2016, followed by a national study in 2018. These controversial publications and their related mainstream media attention characterized such deaths as being relatively common.

This new study found that fewer than 1% of sudden unexpected infant deaths during the first month of life actually occur during those first 6 days. The authors note that the peak occurrence for SIDS is in the first 2-4 months of life. Rates of skin-to-skin care rose to nearly 100% in Massachusetts, yet there were zero deaths from suffocation or asphyxia.

Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, another author of the study and professor of pediatrics at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, said: “We now recognize that evidence-based maternity care practices to support breastfeeding are associated with a decreased risk of neonatal death.”

The authors also note that skin-to-skin care is now routine for all infants, regardless of feeding method and remind us that “skin-to-skin requires increased surveillance in the first hours or days after birth.”

An additional significant finding of the study is that deaths in the first 6 days of life occurred disproportionately among Black infants, indicating the racial disparity in infant mortality begins as early as the first 6 days after birth.

Sisters on a milk mission

 When sisters Kendra Valton and Gina VanCant first became pregnant around the same time, they were living several states apart. But it wasn’t long before Valton and her husband picked up and moved from New York City to just across the street from VanCant and her family. 

“We got to be moms together,” Valton reminisces. “We were conjoined at the hip.”

Enjoying their young sons, they would sit and talk. 

“Breastfeeding is all we ever talked about,” Valton says. 

Both moms endured their own breastfeeding challenges and some shared, namely when they returned to work. Impassioned by their experiences, the duo started dreaming up ways to help other parents navigate breastfeeding. 

At first, they got excited about facilitating milk shipment for mothers who needed to be away from their babies, a model similar to the services offered by Milk Stork

But as they dug into their research, Valton says they realized parents’ realities in their state:

  • Very few women continue exclusive breastfeeding for longer than eight weeks. 
  • Women who are less educated, Black, or receiving Medicaid services have lower rates of breastfeeding.
  • Ohio initiation rates and exclusive breastfeeding rates at six months remain below Healthy People 2020. [retrieved from: Ohio Department of Health]
    • Find out how your state compares here
  • Racial disparities in infant mortality are striking. 

Stunned by these stats, the sisters shifted their focus slightly to education and breastfeeding visibility, especially in the African American community. Their social enterprise, The Milk Mission, was born. 

Last month, The Milk Mission received some funding from SEA Change, to help shape their vision. 

The organization is multifaceted. It will offer an “Online Breastfeeding University” where moms can take a number of modules from their phone or other devices. The Milk Mission is also in the process of creating a breast pump distribution program. 

The duo plans to continue connecting with parents and community members with an interest in maternal child health (everyone!), by providing culturally appropriate infant feeding education. 

Valton acknowledges that there is often “cultural unattachment” from care providers who serve families of color, and she hopes to help fill in the gap.

Cecilia Obeng and colleagues point out in African-American Women’s Perceptions and Experiences About Breastfeeding:  “Historically, African-American women were utilized as ‘wet nurses,’ where women were required to breastfeed children of households where they rendered service as caregivers (27). Perhaps, after the ‘wet nurse’ era ended women within the African-American community perceived breastfeeding as a symbol of powerlessness or objectification.” 

Valton says: “We heard those stories from our grandma.” 

Valton’s approach is to bring these stories to the forefront without making those involved in the conversation feel like it’s wrong or shameful. 

As with any social organization, partnership is important to the duo. They’ve partnered with community centers in Cleveland, done work with CelebrateOne, and plan to build a relationship with Ohio State University. 

Valton recently completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC). She calls the course an eye-opener; whereas she once connected with parents with her personal story, she now has evidence-based support tools to better uplift families.  

You can find The Milk Mission on Facebook. Stay tuned for the launch of their new website anticipated soon!