NAPPLSC rejuvenates a community of excellence

What happens in an environment void of the need to convince others that racial health inequity exists?

The National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color (NAPPLSC) put it to the test in August this year at their inaugural, unprecedented The Amazing R.A.C.E.: Rejuvenating A Community of Excellence event, just before the ROSE Summit in New Orleans.  Participants included individuals vested in improving maternal child health as well as organizations like the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute who put forth a challenge on social media to raise scholarships for People of Color (POC) to attend the R.A.C.E.

Healthy Children Project’s Cindy Turner-Maffei attended The Amazing R.A.C.E. with Zoë McInerney of The Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice (ALPP).

Turner-Maffei calls the R.A.C.E. “something incredible.”

“I’ve never experienced anything like it before,” she says.  

Fashioned after the reality TV show The Amazing Race, NAPPLSC’s Clifton Kenon and Nekisha Killings–designers of The R.A.C.E–  challenged 39 participants to come up with an unmet need for breastfeeding and develop a plan to address the need. In slightly less than 24 hours, teams were required to share a Powerpoint presentation of their proposal that met a realistic budget to implement.

Already a complex task, participants were up against other elements on their race through the city:

  • Sorted into balanced groups (individuals of varying professional backgrounds and of different ethnicities,) competitors were allotted $25 per team member to cover everything they might need in the following 24 hours: food, public transportation, other incidental expenses. Participants could not spend any of their own money, and they needed to keep record of all expenditures. NAPPLSC’s Membership Chair, Brenda Reyes, acted as the Financial Manager and conducted audits.
  • The event took place from 5 p.m. on August 22 to about 4 p.m. on August 23 when team presentations began, so participants raced through the night. The event closed out with a celebratory event sponsored by HealthConnect One that included bowling, food and refreshments.
  • About every two hours participants were challenged with side-tasks, like creating a media piece that showed predatory marketing in an hour and writing a grant proposal. If these tasks were satisfied, fake money was added to their final project budget.

“It was so intense,” Turner-Maffei emphasizes.

NAPPLSC President Felisha Floyd, BS, CLC, IBCLC, RLC points out that the intensity present at the R.A.C.E. reflects the environment POC work and live through everyday.

“Our communities are in crises,” she stresses.  

Weaving heavy realities into game format made for dynamic energy, excitement and an element of mystery, Killings describes.

Members of the winning team were: Camie Goldhammer, Khyrej Jones, Nikia Fuller-Sankofa and her daughter, Chauntel Norris, and McInerney. NAPPLSC hasn’t shared the rubric for deciding on the winning team.

Over one month after the event, NAPPLSC Executive Director Stacy Davis reports that she’s still receiving emails from participants expressing their appreciation.

Killings noticed competitors’ elation to be around like-minded professionals, their excitement for what is to come and the gratification of realizing what they could create together.

Some have shared that the R.A.C.E. was life-changing.

Turner-Maffei reflects on the valuable process: “Part of my learning was realizing where my strengths are and knowing where to cede. I had to to refrain from sharing opinions. I’m not from this community. While I may know what works in general, the other folks in my group are the experts.”

She wonders, “How do I put my needs and skills out there so I can be truly useful?”

The R.A.C.E. helped Turner-Maffei realize the value of letting go of her perception of what is real and to be willing to accept another perception of reality.

Floyd considers her experience as a competitor life-changing too.

“It’s pretty amazing how quickly you can come up with ideas and really facilitate solution driven strategies under pressure,” she says. She points out though, that outside of the R.A.C.E., POC don’t always benefit from the team component.

In a true act of allyship though, Floyd recognizes the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Insititute’s challenge to organizations of privilege to sponsor POC as “profound and reassuring.”

“The beauty of that call out was that it was a wonderful example how an organization can act as an ally without being solicited,” Floyd explains. “We saw an amazing impact.”

Initially, NAPPLSC planned to issue three scholarships to The R.A.C.E.; ultimately they were able to award 15 full scholarships.

Floyd goes on, “In the field of lactation we all can find that common thread. We are all here to support families.”

Competitors entered the R.A.C.E. with similarities, but over 24 hours, they formed lifelong friendships.

For instance, one of Turner-Maffei’s team members had a grandchild born within 30 minutes of her newest granddaughter.

“I feel bonded to these women for life!” she exclaims.

Davis reiterates that participants got to know one another “on a totally different level.”

Floyd laughs, “I can only imagine if we had more time, we could have solved the world’s problems.”

Improving access to culturally and linguistically appropriate services for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) community

Lorena Quiroz-Lewis remembers fondly the first seven years of her life in Ecuador. She recalls going to her Abuelita’s house every Sunday for dinner where women and children gathered to comb hair, talk about their husbands and breastfeed their babies.

“I remember walking around to several of my Aunts and looking down at the bundles held in their arms as they nursed their babies with no shame, breasts out, laughing loudly at something one of them said…Getting scolded for not bringing our Tias the chicken soup, and listening to them discuss how tightly they had their fajas (garters) and showing off the excellent job they had done in tightening their stomachs,” Quiroz-Lewis reminisces.

When Quiroz-Lewis became a mother after moving to the Mississippi Delta, her experience lacked any of the warmth and comfort she felt in Ecuador.

She found herself at a hospital where staff treated her a “substandard human” without health insurance.

Quiroz-Lewis tells part of her birth story:

“[I was] scared witless about giving birth naturally, even though I had been in labor for two days with no medications. In the end, the fear [hospital staff] instilled in me– of tearing my baby’s shoulders off, breaking her arms– I had a c-section. My baby was taken from me, bottle fed while I recovered, and all my dreams of having a natural birth and nursing my baby with little interventions were gone.”

Upon her arrival home, Quiroz-Lewis struggled to breastfeed; breasts bleeding and beset with an unexplained fever, she landed back in the hospital for days. It wasn’t until her mother, father and sisters arrived that she felt truly taken care of.  

“For the week they were there, they took care of me, my baby, my husband and my home,” Quiroz-Lewis says. “This is why I treasure women and the importance of our culture, our tribes, because they saved my life and the life of my child. They nursed me back to health.”

Still trying desperately to put her daughter to breast, Quiroz-Lewis ultimately found herself at the health department seeking formula.

That day, the district breastfeeding coordinator happened to be there. She and Quiroz-Lewis engaged in a welcome exchange; the woman wondered why she was switching to formula.

“I showed her my scabbed breasts,” Quiroz-Lewis recalls. “At that moment, my baby started to root.”

The breastfeeding specialist took the cue and asked if Quiroz-Lewis would try to feed her baby.

For the first time in six weeks, Quiroz-Lewis says she felt no pain while breastfeeding as the woman put her baby “so lovingly” to her breast. For over an hour, the woman sat attentively with Quiroz-Lewis and guided her to a support group about to take place.

“[I] walked into a room filled with breastfeeding women, babies running… women laughing loudly, grandmas holding toddlers while their daughters tried to nurse,” Quiroz-Lewis recalls. “I was home.”

Six months later, the breastfeeding coordinator offered Quiroz-Lewis a peer counselor position.

“My love for the health of moms and babies has become my passion ever since that fateful day,” she says.

Today, Quiroz-Lewis is a bilingual health and wellness coach, Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) and executive director at LABALink (Latin American Betterment Association.)

In celebration of Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, we showcase Quiroz-Lewis’s accomplishments and contributions to the field of maternal child health as she works tirelessly to improve health outcomes for Latino families.

Quiroz-Lewis has nearly two decades of public health experience.

“During these years my passion has continued to be improving access to culturally and linguistically appropriate services for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Community and health equity for People of Color (POC),” Quiroz-Lewis says.

She spent 10 years with the WIC Breastfeeding Program and five years with the Mississippi State Department of Health Office of Health Disparities Elimination and Office of Preventive Health as State Diabetes Coordinator. The Office of Health Disparities Elimination was instrumental in developing a strategic plan and policy that would ultimately address poor maternal child health outcomes. It brought the first medical interpreter trainings to the state where Quiroz-Lewis was a trainer, and it provided the first Spanish language chronic disease trainings in the state. The office hosted a health fair and collaborated with other community partners to bring nutritional workshops to residents.

“It was a huge success but lack of funding has [prevented] us from doing the work that is necessary to scale programs that are direly needed,” Quiroz-Lewis says.

Quiroz-Lewis is responsible for restructuring the main role and mission of LABA to improve quality of care, access to care and increase community and business partnerships in the Latin American community.

She is also a Community Transformer Trainer for Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE) with a goal of forming a breastfeeding coalition for Latinas.

Her work doesn’t end there. Quiroz-Lewis is a master level trainer for Stanford’s Chronic Disease and Diabetes Programs and a CDC Lifestyle Diabetes Prevention Coach. She has been asked to speak before the City of Ridgeland’s Chamber on Diversity, Inclusion and Language Access and has participated in the B.B. King’s Museum’s Racial Equity Panel Programs.

She is part of the Mississippi Breastfeeding Coalition and the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN.)

Currently, Quiroz-Lewis conducts interviews with women in the Latino community about their hospital birth and breastfeeding experiences and access to resources in their language to help engage providers and advocate for proper maternal health services by sharing personal stories.

“In the Delta, Latino moms are invisible,” Quiroz-Lewis states. “They lack a voice because they are undocumented and either do not speak the language or do not speak well. There is no one to advocate for them, nor do they have the resources to advocate for themselves.”

As a self proclaimed writer and storyteller, Quiroz Lewis documents the accounts of her life; stories from Ecuador, her family’s migration to the States, growing up Latina in New York, marrying and moving to rural Mississippi.

“Writing can be a way to influence people, advocate for yourself and the rights of others as well as show vulnerability and be able to connect with people on so many levels,” she says.

Latino authors like Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez and Esmeralda Santiago have deeply influenced Quiroz-Lewis.

“Their contribution to the literal world and to humanity as a whole, by giving a voice to our community and our people, highlighting our struggles and successes, sharing our culture and the light we bring to this country, brings me great pride,” she says.

Quiroz-Lopez honors their legacy working to improve conditions for Latino families in a state with chilling maternal infant mortality rates, some of the lowest breastfeeding rates and highest obesity rates.

“There are so many things that we can improve on– basic things which are not part of the CDC’s recommendations–which can prevent so many of these tragedies,” Quiroz-Lopez begins. “Things that involve cultural practices, basic nutrition, the care of our women and babies by our tribe, the cuarentena, days of rest which follows birth which gives emotional and physical support to a mom who has just delivered a tiny human.”

She goes on, “In this country where healthcare is a right and technology is at the tips of our fingers, we have forgotten the human part of health care, which along with our cultural practices can be used to improve health outcomes on maternal child health.”

As allies, Quiroz-Lewis offers this for our consideration: “It is impossible to understand the complexities of people’s cultures and languages and cultural norms. What can work in these cases as our country moves into a more diverse population, is kindness. Show kindness to your clients. Listen, look at the expressions on their faces, do not leave without making sure that mom is doing ok, come back and follow up. Show love.”

Breastfeeding, peace and justice

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

This Thursday is The International Day of Peace (“Peace Day”) which has been observed globally for over three decades. Established by unanimous United Nations resolution, Peace Day offers “a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace.”

As a prelude to Peace Day, we are sharing a beautiful piece (with permission) by World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) Young Leaders Frenny Jowi and Bryndís Skarphéðinsdóttir which was originally published for WABA as an International Youth Day Statement in August this year.

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Young people are key agents of change in conflict prevention and sustaining peace. On International Youth Day 2017 WABA celebrates young people and their contributions to conflict prevention and transformation, sharing with our work across generations, for inclusion, social justice and sustainable peace.

Youth, Peace and breastfeeding!

Breastfeeding and peace. You may wonder what the link is between the two.

In the words of Anwar Fazal, Right Livelihood Award Laureate and Chairperson Emeritus of WABA, “Breastfeeding is about peace and justice. It is the natural and peaceful way of nurturing our children. In a world often wracked by injustice, violence and war, breastfeeding can be a sentinel of peace- inner peace, peace with other people and peace with the environment’’

There are more young people in the world than at any time in recorded human history. Half of the world‘s population is younger than 25 years old. The majority of the younger generation live in developing countries, many of which are countries affected by conflict.

It is very important that young people play a key role in sustaining peace and promoting a sustainable future. It is our future that we are shaping.

Conflicts often tend to arise in poorer countries, that experience wide inequalities, lack of security and cannot meet basic human needs. The protection, promotion and support (PPS) for breastfeeding, when taken seriously and with urgency by communities and governments, demands that we reevaluate our priorities and place people and the planet at the centre of how we organize our world.

Women are at the centre of global development issues. Poverty affects women disproportionately. The feminization of poverty is a social justice issue and we cannot ignore it. Child care and breastfeeding are still largely seen as ‘women’ work’. Unpaid care work confines women and stops them from achieving their full potential. For peace and harmonious co-existence, we must recognise and integrate women’s roles in the work place, politics and all aspects of public life. Women’s breastfeeding rights are directly linked to the common good of our communities. The rights of girls and women are at the core of peacebuilding.

Breastfeeding advances sustainable development by improving nutrition and health, preventing child mortality and by decreasing the risk of both communicable and non-communicable diseases, for both mother and child. When addressed in societal terms the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding becomes an important enabler to tackle poverty, promote economic growth and reduce inequalities.

Conflicts and refugee producing situations create stressful environments that have a negative impact on the mother’s ability to breastfeed. Mothers in crisis situations often feel forced to turn to bottle-feeding. Breastmilk substitutes lack the immunological benefits of breastmilk. An unhygienic environment and unsafe water mean that a bottle-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea or other diseases than a breastfed child.

According to The World Health Organization, more than 820,000 lives, mostly babies under 6 months of age in low to middle-income countries, could be saved annually with increased exclusive breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is one of the top interventions for reducing under-five mortality, as it provides the nutrients needed to survive and thrive.

There are enormous economic benefits to any country from reduced illnesses, costs of health care cost and increased productivity. But not enough funds or attention have been given to the importance of breastfeeding.

This International Youth Day, there are three things that give us hope that by working together, young people can play an active role in building the future we want.

Firstly, World Breastfeeding Week 2017 saw the launch of The Global Breastfeeding Collective. Led by UNICEF and WHO, this partnership brings together some 20 international agencies, including WABA, with the goal of increasing investment in breastfeeding worldwide. Secondly, WABA has aligned World Breastfeeding Week with the Sustainable Development Goals providing a framework for a long-term campaign to achieve our collective ambitions across issues. Thirdly, as WABA Young Leaders, young people have space and support to inform, engage and galvanize others to contribute meaningfully to this process.

Young people have a voice and will hold governments accountable. Together we can build resilient and peaceful societies.

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.