Reclaiming Latino/Hispanic birth and breastfeeding traditions

Hispanic Americans have positively influenced our nation for generations.

One of those women, HealthConnect One’s program manager Brenda Reyes, RN, CLC, works fiercely to improve maternal child health outcomes, especially for Latino/Hispanic communities. Reyes has more than 15 years of experience working with diverse organizations to create and implement peer support programs for new moms and families.

Reyes says she is overwhelmed by the ever-growing list of Latino/Hispanic people who have made a positive impact on our country. Historically speaking, she cites community organizers who fought for workers’ rights, like Cesar Chavez. Reyes acknowledges the work of her community members in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago too, who have been instrumental in helping her get to where she is today. She remembers the parents in her community who rallied and built the high school she graduated from. She pays tribute to the work of Guadalupe Reyes, a woman devoted to advocacy work for Latino/Hispanic children with disabilities.  

Reyes expresses gratitude for the maternal child health leaders and other justice leaders like breastfeeding peer counselors and community-based doulas; the “trailblazers in our communities.”

“I’m quite sure they have had the biggest impact in our Latino community when it comes to racial equity,” Reyes says.

She extols countless individuals, non-profits and grassroots efforts, not only in her community but nationally who have worked to amplify the Latino/Hispanic voice and collectively organize to advocate for the needs of Latino families, like addressing allocation of resources, issues of gentrification and reproductive rights to name a few.  

“Nothing has been given to us,” Reyes declares. “My community has fought for what we have.” 

This month, from September 15 to October 15, HealthConnect One will celebrate this fervor and capacity to endure during Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month with a blog series, “Reclaiming our traditions on breastfeeding and birth.” Reyes and her colleagues invite Latino/Hispanic leaders, advocates and supporters of breastfeeding and birth to participate by sharing a story, poem, picture, art piece or video in Spanish or English.  

Reyes points out that Latino/Hispanic culture is not homogenous, so she speaks to Latino/Hispanic birth culture from a personal perspective.

During her pregnancy, her family rallied around her, protecting her and her growing baby from the effects of stress.

“My ancestors had a very clear idea and connection about emotion and stress [during pregnancy and beyond,]” Reyes begins. “They knew the impact of emotion.”

That meant household chores were alleviated from her routine during the “Cuarentena,” 40 days after the postpartum period. Food and nutrition were central to the support she received too. She learned from her mother and grandmother about the importance of healthy activity during pregnancy, and the way movement could replace medicalized pain intervention during birth. Once she gave birth, she carried her baby in a rebozo, the same way her mother carried her. 

These beautiful traditions that Reyes hopes to magnify during Hispanic Heritage Month and always, are often overcast by the very serious struggles Latino/Hispanic families face.

“We have to acknowledge the system, the policies that are in place that impact Latino families,” Reyes begins. “I hear consistently this barrier of language.”

Not only are institutions failing to provide health services in a culturally humble or sensitive way; at its worst, information and services aren’t even being communicated or provided to them.

“We deal with institutional racism,” Reyes continues.  

And Latino/Hispanic families are impacted by immigration issues.

“Immigration impacts a very large percentage of our community,” says Reyes. Often unvoiced, she says immigration needs to become part of our national discussion around maternal child health, because Latino/Hispanic communities carry the stress of immigration status which has far-reaching implications like foregoing or discontinuing prenatal and postpartum care.

Moreover, Latina mothers are working mothers and need workplace policies to support them. There’s also a lack of leadership opportunities for Latino people.

As allies, Reyes asks non-Hispanic birth and breastfeeding supporters to consider what allyship means.

“What have you done to advocate for justice when it comes to the Latino community?” she wonders. “How are you building trusting relationships within our community? Are you listening to our people? What are you doing to address racism in your institution? Are you creating safe spaces for families? What are you doing to engage, listen and follow the lead of Latino people?” 

These questions are ever-important as National Breastfeeding Month came to a close with Black Breastfeeding Week (BBW), and unsupportive sentiment cluttered social media, claiming BBW “divisive.” [Read this and this if you’re confused about why we need to acknowledge the unique needs of certain communities.] 

Reyes quotes Urban Strategies’ National Director of Health Initiatives Diana N. Derige, DrPH:  “…we stand with our black sisters to end stereotyping and bias in maternity care and breastfeeding support practices,” and revisits HealthConnect One’s internal values: “ We respect that people of color, and other groups with shared identities, need their own space to meet from time to time, away from others who may not share the same identities and challenges.” 

“Let’s honor people of color space,” Reyes suggests.

 Beyond Hispanic Heritage Month, Reyes says she is excited about HealthConnect One’s  birth equity work and the collaboration with other national organizations that it entails.    

“I look forward to learning and challenging ourselves and stretching ourselves a little bit deeper,” she says.  

Always a challenge to overcome, Reyes remains optimistic.  

“I live right across from a playground,” she begins. “It’s quite beautiful to be able to witness children playing; to hear the laughter and the joy, see the smiles and the energy. That gives me hope. You have to look forward.”  

Visit HealthConnect One here, and find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The art of breastfeeding

Tied for third place- Untitled by Hugo Pacheco Ramirez

From the statuette of Isis nursing Horus, to da Vinci’s Madonna Litta to Cassatt’s Maternite, the breastfeeding mother is ever-present throughout art history.

As our culture grew heavily influenced by formula companies though, and the publicly breastfeeding mother became considered almost pornographic, the image of the once venerated nursing mother slipped away.

With the advent of social media, the breastfeeding mother in all her forms has reemerged as fierce and beautiful as ever.

Second Place- What’s Your Superpower? by Linaia Le Doux

Chair of the Arkansas Breastfeeding Coalition Lucy Towbin, MSW, LCSW, IBCLC initiated The Art of Breastfeeding Contest in an effort to support local artists and to promote images of breastfeeding in public, she says. The artwork was ultimately auctioned at the 2017 Arkansas Breastfeeding Symposium; proceeds to benefit the coalition.

Towbin and organizers required submitted artwork to portray breastfeeding in a positive light and convey subjects in a recognizable manner in a public place or other real-life situation that might actually be encountered by a mom and baby today (e.g. in a park, restaurant, or store).

Garbo Hearne, owner of Hearne Galleries, Little Rock and Barry Blinderman, Director of University Galleries, Normal, Illinois judged the artwork of five artist entries.

Stephanie MeadowsOur Strength Lies Within took first place.  

First Place- Our Strength Lies Within by Stephanie Meadows

I was so excited,” Meadows exclaims. “I squealed out an ‘Oh My Gosh! I won!’ I couldn’t believe it. It was a wonderful feeling knowing those moms were represented in such a positive way.”

Meadows nursed her children for a total of three and a half years, and says she regrets not participating in a photo session to document “the tears of defeat and… the tears of victory” as she describes her personal breastfeeding journey. As a gift to other mothers and to capture “how strong and amazing our bodies are,” Meadows hosted a free photo session. They met at a local park and “showed the strength within.”

“Entering the contest was just another way for me to help promote a wonderful thing,” Meadows says.

Tied for third place- Untitled by Marilyn Allen

Towbin explains that not all artists are as enthusiastic about donating their work.

There is a growing resentment among artists who feel as if their work is almost expected to be donated, which might be why contest submissions were relatively low, Towbin says.

The five submission received ample attention at the Symposium though, where 140 attendees marveled at the work.

An individual who works at the health department as a WIC breastfeeding coordinator bought one the pieces and plans to display it at work, Towbin reported on Facebook.

Towbin and her colleagues plan to host the contest again thanks to the interest at the event. Hearne and the Director of Drawing and Painting at the Arkansas Arts Center have agreed to offer guidance to the coalition for the next contest.

Find out more about the Arkansas Breastfeeding Coalition here and here.

Exploring mean behavior within the field of lactation

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. –Dalai Lama

I was four when I met Coleen and Rachelle, sisters and my childhood backdoor neighbors. The first time I saw them was through my mom’s bedroom window as I watched them glob mud pies in their unfinished yard. Instantly, I was crazy about them. I went on to spend the majority of my young childhood obsessively playing dolls with Coleen, and secretly idolizing Rachelle as a hip, maternal figure even though she’s only a handful of years older than me.

Funny how those memories seem just a trip-to-the-old-neighborhood-away. Coleen, Rachelle and I are all moms now, and it’s almost surreal to watch our children play together. Being a ‘real’ mom is not often like playing dolls, but eerily the same sometimes.

At one of our most recent visits, Coleen pumped during dinner and our conversation turned to lactation care providers (LCPs). Both Coleen and Rachelle told me they had unpleasant experiences initiating breastfeeding; they reported the LCPs were pushy and seemed to have an agenda.

I sympathized having had similar feelings about the “help” I received when my oldest was born. Learning of their experiences made me mournful too, because they’re my friends! And because I’m aware of the imprint health care providers make on women, especially postpartum. Sadly I wasn’t surprised, because it’s not the first time these feelings have been reported. In fact, there’s been damaging backlash as a result of “lactation professionals’ agenda,” which amounts to our implicit belief in opposites as Dr. Karin Cadwell broke down at the 2016 International Breastfeeding Conference. (Think The case against breastfeeding, Lactivism, Bottled Up, Guilt-free bottle feeding, Is breast best? to name a few.)

During our visit, we didn’t dwell on pushy LCPs, but the conversation certainly hasn’t left my mind. When a colleague shared Lions, and Bottles, and Teats, Oh My!—Legal Analysis: International-Code-Supportive Teaching About Bottle and Teat Use by Elizabeth C. Brooks and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett’s PhD, IBCLC, FAPA Clinical Lactation editorial Should Lactation Consultants Be Mean? Let’s Bring Civility, Kindness, and Professionalism Back Into Our Discourse, I thought mostly about Coleen and Rachelle. The material Brooks and Kendall-Tackett cover in their pieces is mostly in regard to behavior between professionals, but I wonder how much of that sentiment percolates from colleague to client.

I’m interested in sharing Coleen and Rachelle’s experiences, not to vilify any one credential of lactation professional or LCPs in general, but to expose the inappropriate, unhelpful and mean behavior of perhaps a select few who have the potential to tarnish the reputation of an entire profession and/or advocacy group.

Credibility problems

Kendall-Tackett puts it this way in her editorial: “A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine, who is high up in the doula world, told me that ‘lactation consultants are mean.’ Of course, I argued back. But in the end, I had to agree that at least some lactation consultants do behave quite meanly at times…I realize, as I write this, that I’m only talking about a few people in our field. Unfortunately, these few have created a toxic environment…Do we really want to be the mean profession? Doesn’t this create a serious credibility problem for us?”

More important than reputation though, are the mothers and babies who don’t reach their infant feeding goals and are left feeling deflated and defeated as a result of their interactions with someone who’s supposed to be there to help.

Learning of accounts of unlikeable behavior by LCPs gives us all a chance to reflect on the way we support and advocate for mothers.

Mothers’ desires 

As part of our interview, I asked Coleen and Rachelle to describe the ideal lactation professional.

“A woman who has personal experience breastfeeding. Someone who is positive, kind, patient, and helpful with the mom and baby through any breastfeeding challenges,” Coleen said.

Rachelle described someone similar: “The ideal lactation professional would be calming and offer help with whatever the mother is facing regarding breastfeeding. They would be positive and encouraging throughout the process. It would also be helpful to see constructive commentary and an empathetic outlook towards mothers that seem to be struggling with the process.”

Their responses align with the desires of other mothers too.

In The experience of nursing women with breastfeeding support: a qualitative inquiry by Kathleen H. Chaput, PhD, et al, the authors conclude, Nursing mothers want advice and support from people with the knowledge base to ensure resolution of problems, but it is critical that support be delivered without pressure and with emotional sensitivity to both mother and baby.” Not unreasonable.

Aggressive, condescending interactions

And yet, Coleen and Rachelle’s encounters with LCPs were unpleasant at best.

Coleen shares:

“My first interaction with a lactation professional was in the hospital the day after I had the baby. She came in briefly to help with feeding, perhaps 20 minutes or so in the beginning then she’d come in randomly to check on us. It may have just been her strong personality, but she came off very aggressive while trying to be overly nice in an exaggerated way. A nurse had helped with the first couple of feedings and had given me a nipple shield to use, however the LP wanted me to stop using it right away which I wasn’t a fan of as my nipples were cracked, bleeding and so sore!

She spoke to me in a condescending manner, but would add a smile with a cheery voice which irritated me more. I would have liked her to be more “gentle’ with me being a first time mom and not knowing what I was doing. I didn’t like how she pushed breast-is-best and would make me feel bad because it wasn’t “working’ for us.

The LP had scheduled a follow up appointment for me to come in a week after we went home, but I ended up cancelling the appointment because I didn’t want to meet with her again. I was going to go to a support group with a friend but decided not to after talking with the pediatrician. She said that it was ok if I wanted to pump and bottle feed more than breastfeed. [My husband] and I were already planning on doing that so he could help out with feedings, but it was reassuring hearing it from the pediatrician.” [bold text added]

Here’s Rachelle:

“I met with the lactations consultants at the hospital after each of the boys’ births. With Jaxon I met with the specialist the next morning after he was born. Jax was born at 4pm but he went straight to the NICU so I didn’t get to try to feed him until about 9pm that night. The nurse originally was the one that tried to help me feed him. They were very positive and encouraging. They had me try different positions and offered advice that had helped them in the past when they breastfed. The consultant came to my room the next morning and she was also pretty helpful. She gave me a nipple shield because she didn’t think my nipples protruded enough. She also provided me with gel pads and lanolin samples to help with the soreness I was feeling. She told me about breastfeeding classes/support groups that were offered through the hospital. I was also checked up on by another consultant while I was there to see if I was becoming any more comfortable with breastfeeding…I found her to be a little frustrating. When I expressed my concerns about the pain and discomfort I was feeling she basically blew me off and said that it wasn’t going to be easy and I needed to push through it. She also told me that I didn’t need to feed Jax for the half hour to forty minutes that I was trying to feed him. I didn’t really know what I was doing so it was a little deflating and she kind of made me feel stupid when she said that was way too long.

When Landon was born I again met with a lactation consultant. She tried to help me with the positioning and discomfort. I told her about my previous breastfeeding history with Jaxon and she said every kid/experience could be different. With Landon a nipple shield made the pain worse so they tried to offer alternative suggestions to make the process easier.

The lactation consultants in my opinion were minimally helpful. Of the three that I saw, the first one offered me the most help and comfort. The other ones just made me feel like I wasn’t really trying hard enough and they were kind of aggressive in how they tried to get the boys to latch on. Beyond the births I never sought any other professional help from any lactation consultants.”

The origin of mean behavior 

Most LCPs with evidence-based training could point out at least ten inappropriate suggestions or behaviors by the LCPs in Coleen and Rachelle’s accounts. Technicalities aside, and without making excuses for poor professionalism or devaluing Coleen’s, Rachelle’s, and other mothers’ experiences, I wonder why some LCPs’ behavior is graceless. Do some lactation specialists act mean because they’re stretched thin and burnt out? Does unlikeable behavior stem from lack of interpersonal skills?  

Brooks offers an explanation to part of the bullying problem between lactation specialists, which some might argue also affects their interactions with clients.

Brooks writes describing the Code, “There is no ultimate international legal authority empowered to enforce the model document as passed in 1981. In the absence of legislation or regulation within a country, and precedent-setting interpretation of such legal authority, Code supporters are left to interpret the Code’s language and intent on their own, with no sanction for failure to do so accurately.”

“The noble motives for the Code are undermined when skilled clinicians, who aim to respect a family’s need or desire to use a bottle-and-teat to offer a supplement (of any kind), fear (or are) being vilified in the name of the Code,” she continues in Lions, and Bottles, and Teats, Oh My!.

In response to Brooks’s and Kendall-Tackett’s pieces on bullying, Cindy Turner-Maffei, MA, ALC, IBCLC ponders, “I wonder how much of this is just a sidetrack created by our very human resistance to the hard work ahead of us in leveling the structural racism behind disparities in infant and maternal experiences, tackling parental leave legislation and the other very real ‘Booby Traps’.”

Woman-centered, not breastfeeding-centered

If breastfeeding self-efficacy and the avoidance of breastmilk substitutes are public health imperatives, we cannot afford any behavior that might compel women to give up on breastfeeding.

At last year’s International Breastfeeding Conference, Dr. Cadwell asked a roomful of breastfeeding advocates, Are we acting as sales reps or customer service reps?

She suggested we leave sales up to the formula companies and focus on individualized maternal care. Forget about being breastfeeding-centered; the support we offer must be woman-centered, she said.  

In The impact of attitudes on infant feeding decisions, Mary E. Losch, et al point out that, in the profiles of women who decided not to breastfeed, one of the most consistent findings was that “women who decide to formula feed are not so much embracing this method of infant feeding as rejecting breastfeeding.”

 

Exploring the world of exclusive pumping: Guest post by Fiona Jardine, MA, LLM, MLS, CLC

Fiona Jardine, MA, LLM, MLS, CLC is a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland’s iSchool conducting research on the experiences and information behavior of those who exclusively pump breast milk. This week on Our Milky Way, she shares preliminary findings from her research, her motivations, and how she hopes to contribute to maternal child health. We look forward to hearing her conclusions as there is much to learn about exclusive pumping. 

______

My PhD research topic came to me completely by surprise, given both the circumstances surrounding it and the incredibly circuitous route my life had taken up to that point. I don’t think anyone—including myself—thought that an undergraduate and master’s degree in law from the Universities of Cambridge and San Francisco respectively together with a Master’s of Library Science (interspersed with me opening and running a café and practicing law) would lead me to study exclusive pumping of human milk.

Given this unorthodox background, it’s not surprising that my research is a result of my own experience. I had a beautiful baby girl in April 2016 and unfortunately, due to a variety of obstacles and little to no professional support, my baby and I were not able to establish a direct nursing relationship. I was devastated that we would never have the “gold standard” of baby nutrition, bonding, and comfort, but was still determined to give her my milk any way I could. I knew vaguely how to express milk with a breast pump, but little clue how to do it as the sole means of extraction, despite having taken a breastfeeding class, spoken at length about breastfeeding with our doula, and done a great deal of online research on the topic. After doing more online research, I discovered the term “exclusive pumping” (EP, EPing, EPer) at about two weeks postpartum. Through social media, specifically Facebook groups, I learned how to sustainably EP, received answers to specific questions, and felt understanding and support for my situation.

We all know that human milk is seen by mothers, healthcare providers, and public health organizations as optimal nutrition for infants and, perhaps more importantly, most mothers want to breastfeed. We also all know that a variety of external barriers to breastfeeding exist, such as problems establishing a latch, getting milk to flow, or poor infant weight gain. Internal barriers, such as a perception that human milk alone is not sufficient and a desire for caregivers to be involved in infant feeding, are also responsible for breastfeeding cessation. EPing, defined as only expressing milk and not directly nursing at the breast, can—and successfully does—provide the solution to many of these barriers while still providing the benefits of feeding human milk.

However, research on EPing is scant and often limited to secondary analysis of existing data (such as the Infant Feeding Practices Survey II), content analysis of expressed milk, or mothers of infants in the NICU. I have not been able to find (and I would LOVE to be proved wrong) any published research documenting the experiences of EPers themselves, including why they EP, where they find information, what support they get, how they feel, and problems they have. The field of my PhD—Information Studies—provides me with enough latitude to ask all of these questions (and more).

And ask I did. In March 2017 (and after receiving IRB approval), I started collecting data through an online survey containing 170 open– and closed–ended questions (although almost no one answered all 170 questions, given respondents were routed based on their individual situations). Below is a flowchart containing the topics covered in this initial survey. In addition, women currently EPing were given the option to participate in follow-up surveys every two months until they ceased EPing. So far, the initial survey has been taken by over 2,300 current and former EPers, and follow-up surveys sent out in May and July 2017 have received 372 and 159 responses respectively (recruitment was limited to 500 for the May survey; only those that participated in May’s survey could participate in July’s). 

 

I am overwhelmed by the response to my research. The number of survey responses in itself is an indication of how passionately these women want their voices to be heard: this survey is long and has a fair amount of open-ended questions, yet women took their time (often over an hour) to share their experiences at length (consequently, I have a huge amount of qualitative data to analyze). However, it has been the support and messages I have received that have truly touched me and made me realize both the critical need for EPing research and that my research as already made a difference. Some women have shared with me that they experienced profound catharsis as they finally got to share their breastfeeding/postpartum/EPing journey; others have expressed joy and gratitude that someone is finally taking EPing seriously, getting the word out there, or trying to create a world where the women that come after them won’t face as many challenges or negative reactions as they did.

So, what am I doing with all this (and more—the initial survey is still open) data? As part of a department-required PhD milestone, I analyzed a small selection of the data focusing on prenatal information behavior (that is, the information needs, seeking methods, and use) of women who EPed postpartum. My findings were interesting and stress the need for more information about EPing to be provided prenatally. It was a little disheartening, however, to produce this word cloud, which represents the feelings of EPers about EPing. I am currently preparing a paper about these findings for journal submission. 

 

As I am working on my dissertation, I will be analyzing more of the data collected: next on my list is galactagogue use and how effective EPers perceive various popular ones to be, since this is a constant topic of conversation within various EPing discussion groups. To me, though, the most important findings from my research will be those that can make women’s experiences of EPing more positive. Anecdotally, I have discovered that a frightening number (read: vast majority) of EPers get no or bad advice from their healthcare providers, including but certainly not limited to lactation care providers of all kinds. This advice doesn’t usually come out of ill intention, but simply ignorance: giving an EPer the same advice about pumping as a nursing mother is usually going to result in failure for the EPer. As EPing grows in popularity as breast pumps sit on every new mother’s side table and continue to offer more technologically advanced features, it is the responsibility of lactation care providers to have the correct information to provide. One of my goals through this research is to discover and disseminate this correct information.

Finally, I want to make sure that those of you that have made it this far aren’t left with the wrong impression of what I am trying to achieve with my work. Just as no lactation care provider should force a woman to nurse against her wish, I don’t think that EPing should replace nursing for those that want to and are successful. In fact, I obtained my CLC qualification (and plan to become an ALC later this year) to help as many women be successful at nursing as possible. Nevertheless, there are some EPers who have or could have chosen to nurse successfully, but felt that EPing was the right choice for them. There are far more EPers, however, that tried to nurse and, for a variety of reasons (that shall be illuminated by my data), failed and resorted to the frustrating, challenging, but devoted path of EPing so they could still feed their babies their milk. It is for all EPers that I do this research, but especially those that felt, as I did, the double letdown of nursing failure together with little to no competent professional support for or advice about the only alternative that allowed them to feed their own milk to their babies.

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.”