Hispanic Health Council’s Breastfeeding Heritage and Pride (BHP) Program heals, empowers and celebrates through peer counseling model

Photo by Luiza Braun

Over half of the Hispanic Health Council’s Breastfeeding Heritage and Pride (BHP) Program peer counselors were once served by the program as mothers enduring mastitis or going back to work early or other barriers to healthy infant feeding. Yet, some of these mothers still managed to breastfeed into toddlerhood.

“They took the knowledge to not only be able to succeed but [brought] it back into their community,”  BHP program manager and lactation consultant Cody Cuni, IBCLC, BS says. “This is a success story.”

BHP is a person-centered, peer support counseling program intended to increase breastfeeding initiation, duration, and exclusivity among low-income, minority women in the greater Hartford, Connecticut area. For over 20 years, the program has existed in some form. In 2000, an official review of the program was completed and solidified the peer-counseling model.

The program’s name was born out of community feedback, mainly from Puerto Rican families. Cuni explains that as community Puerto Ricans were heavily targeted by formula marketing,  the name ‘Breastfeeding Heritage and Pride’ grew from the idea of reclaiming breastfeeding as part of their heritage.

Photo credit: United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC)

Often, the lactation model of care is rooted in colonization, but Cuni says that their program  strives to respect and celebrate diversity.

“Our program seeks to empower…” she begins. “[Breastfeeding] is something that is yours, and something that has always been yours,” she says, speaking to the people they serve.

As program manager, Cuni trains the peer counselors through a 40-hour comprehensive lactation training. She approaches the training through a lens of diversity and cultural competence, helping peer counselors learn to have respectful conversations and teaching them how to be an advocate.

She explains, “Our peer counselors are working with mothers who do face a lot of bias in their health care and in lactation, so we have whole trainings on how to communicate with a provider, how to approach hospital staff who say things like ‘Don’t waste your time on that mother…’”

Peer counselors embark on visits with senior peer counselors and other lactation care providers as part of their mentorship model.

Photo by Felipe Balduino

The program also provides continuing education to stay relevant and weekly meetings to complete case reviews.

As part of their grant funding, BHP is required to track their breastfeeding rates, but Cuni says that what she finds more compelling than these numbers, is the documentation of the lactating person’s individual goals.

Empowering mothers to seek their own goals is our ultimate goal, Cuni says.

BHP is nestled in the Hispanic Health Council’s Parent and Family Learning department which offers other supports throughout the “cycle of learning throughout a family’s lifespan”.

Photo by Omar Lopez

“A holistic approach of care is vital especially for maternal child health care,” Cuni explains. “The first 1,000 days of life are critical to laying a healthy foundation.”

Practicing on a continuum of care gives Cuni and her colleagues the ability to gain a deep understanding of the families they serve, she says.

“Because we work so closely with the families, we establish trust and are able to refer in a way that they might not be open with [other providers].”

The clients that BHP serves are up against every breastfeeding challenge that every family faces in our country, but the issues are compounded and amplified by the stress of living in communities steeped in systemic racism and lack of resources, Cuni explains.

Their clients are managing intergenerational trauma and all of the symptoms associated with trauma, at a cellular level and beyond. For instance, BHP clients have a higher propensity of birthing babies with complex medical needs because of higher rates of preterm labor, gestational diabetes and other health concerns.

Cuni points out other challenges like those associated with being an undoumented immigrant. Gaining access to basic tools like breast pumps can be nearly impossible. Some of their clients return to work at two weeks postpartum after a cesarean section, not by choice of course, but for fear of losing their work as part-time employees.

And although Connecticut has workplace lactation laws in place, mothers will find that if they make noise about those protections, they might not see their name on the schedule any longer.

Photo source: United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC)

Yet, despite all of these obstacles, Cuni says, “There is a sense of resiliency. They’re overcoming so much and they’re not even sitting in that; they’re just living their lives and wanting to do the best for their baby. That resiliency is really inspiring.”

Cuni shares about a mother who lost her baby late in her pregnancy and decided to pump and donate her milk for six months.

“This mom, her experience, her unimaginable tragedy…she still wanted to do something with her milk, and it was really a privilege for our peer counselors to support her.”

Another client they served, after struggling to assert her workplace lactation rights, had a position created for her by their HR department as “breastfeeding liaison”. Now, she is an advocate for any breastfeeding or lactating mother at her workplace.

“Not only did she win for herself, she left it better,” Cuni comments.

Cuni came to this work as a stay-at-home mom with ten years of breastfeeding experience. She was a single mother, returning to the workforce after leaving an abusive marriage.

“My breastfeeding experience was valued as an asset,” Cuni remembers. “My lived experience counted.”

She goes on, “As women, and especially as mothers, we’re always caring for someone else. The pressures that we face make wellness difficult. Our society needs to do more to recognize the value that women have and the support they need to succeed. I want to …. amplify the voices, because if we listen, the answers that we need to solve the maternal mortality crisis, the answers are there if we listen to the women and families we are working with.”

For those interested in supporting the work of the Hispanic Health Council’s BHP, they are looking for donated breastfeeding supplies. You can get in touch at  codyc@hispanichealthcouncil.org.

Colorado pediatric office becomes breastfeeding friendly employer

Castle Rock Pediatrics (CRP) made a splash this summer at the Douglas County Fair Parade where they displayed their incredible Under the Sea themed float. Patients and families created a colorful array of paper plate fish that “swam” through pool noodle crafted seaweed.

CRP also attended the  Renaissance Expeditionary Magnet School Back to School Carnival and the Downtown Castle Rock Concert Under the Lights where they set up a lactation station.

After breastfeeding her own young children and later completing the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC), Laura Westover PA-C, CLC, one of the providers at CRP, dove into helping transform her office into a Breastfeeding-Friendly Employer and soon-to-be Breastfeeding- Friendly Medical Office.

Their work is supported by a grant through the Tri-County Health Department. Westover has been working alongside Susan Howk, a breastfeeding policy specialist, to create their policies and lactation spaces through a six-point plan which includes policy, staff and provider training, patient education, environment, evaluation and sustainability, and continuity of care.

The grant has funded things like a chair, end tables, a hospital-grade multi user breast pump and kits, a stuffed animal nursing dog with her puppies for siblings to play with, and a lactation scale for weighted feeds.

Westover displays the breastfeeding friendly employer certificate in March 2022 standing in their first lactation space.

Their lactation space started in one of their smallest exam rooms, but has recently graduated to one of their larger exam rooms, which is now near the end of its renovation. Westover notes that the space also functions for newborn and young baby visits.

Westover reports that CRP owners since November 2021 Drs. Anderson and Bouchillon have been highly supportive of the breastfeeding-friendly changes.

Prior to the implementation of their lactation policies, Westover says their office “was not lactation friendly at all.” She describes stacks of formula in plain view.

“It gave the impression that we were promoting formula,” she comments.

Gift bags for patients were also riddled with formula-promotions, so the team phased out the branded materials and replaced them for non-branded, breastfeeding-friendly items.

Now, Westover and her colleague Sydney Gruenhaupt RN-BSN, CLC  see breastfeeding dyads weekly for office visits; whereas they once had to refer out. Of mothers’ main concerns are poor weight gain and uncomfortable or painful latch.

Westover points out that Colorado has very high breastfeeding initiation rates, but like the national trend, tapers dramatically at 6 months and beyond. While Westover and her colleagues are not currently tracking their office’s breastfeeding rates, it’s part of the plan in hopes that their numbers will hold steady beyond initiation rates. Westover explains since they’ve switched over to a larger electronic medical records system, there should be potential for a simple, infant feeding tracking system. A 2016 project by the County of San Diego Healthy Works program, implemented by UC San Diego Center for Community Health with funding from First 5 San Diego extensively explores current practices and future possibilities of  breastfeeding measurement in the outpatient electronic health record.

Westover and her colleagues will be out and about again this fall where they’ll craft their  lactation tent at events like Oktoberfest and the town of Castle Rock Spooktacular Halloween celebration.

“[It’s] really wonderful because we are able to promote [to] the whole community,” Westover shares.

For more about CRP’s lactation services visit https://castlerockpediatrics.com/Services/Additional-Services .

New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force (NMBTF) at the forefront of harnessing the power of art

Art is multifunctional. It can be used to enhance or furnish a space, to document history, to simply fill a wall,  to convey a message or emotion or expression, to entertain. Art can do some or all of these things and more. While “art and health have been at the center of human interest from the beginning of recorded history,” the healing properties of art have only begun to be acknowledged in Western medicine in the past few decades, with art therapy first recognized as a profession in 1991. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/ ] 

Photo by Luiza Braun on Unsplash

The New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force (NMBTF) is at the forefront of harnessing the power of art. Recognizing that art is medicine, the task force includes supporting lactation and breastfeeding/chestfeeding through art as a priority initiative, providing scholarships to chapters that take on the initiative.  

“We are  leaders in acknowledging how much art means to our communities,” says NMBTF Core Team Leader Siboney A. Rodriguez-Gallegos, LMSW, CLC. “When we can put those skills to paper or canvas or wall or bench or city bus, I think that we’re just barely starting to explore what can be done with that. I am really proud of our chapters.” 

In Valencia County, April Vasquez and Rosa Sisneros and other team members are working with artist Ana June to create the outline of a mural which will be painted collectively by community members on August 6. The unveiling of the mural will be held August 13. 

“We want to include the community as much as we can with this project,” Vasquez shares. 

She goes on to give a shoutout to University of New Mexico Valencia Assistant Professor of Fine Arts Sarah Heyward who has donated paint and other supplies for this project as well as thanking the property owners who have donated space for the mural to be displayed.  

The imagery is being created on a large canvas making the art moveable and less likely to be destroyed when building ownership changes or buildings are razed, like a past mural project by Betsy Casanos which was painted over when building ownership changed. Putting the art on canvas also allows for reprinting so that the art can be shared on other products and disseminated more widely, Rodriguez-Gallegos explains. 

Former mural that was painted over when building ownership changed. https://www.facebook.com/NMBFING/photos/gm.278067862815360/1881191575312766/

“It’s so exciting,” Vasquez begins. “There were a bunch of emotions getting it together… It’s happening!”  

Further south, Las Cruces County Chapter co-chairs Dr. Martha Morales and Melissa Marie Lopez and members are working with artist Kate Pults. This mural too is being created on canvas to avoid its potential demise on a fixed structure.  

Pults holds families, mothers and babies in many ways and we are thrilled to have her put those gifts in art form,” Rodriguez-Gallegos  shares. 

NMBTF has sponsored past mural projects here, here and here. An extension of the projects, you can find corresponding coloring pages of the murals here

The coloring pages are often distributed at community outreach events and in hospital settings like the antepartum unit and for parents who have babies in the NICU.

There is ample research that demonstrates the influential nature of imagery and how representation matters. (Explore some of those pieces here and here.) This is especially true as the baby milk substitute (BMS) industry advances their marketing tactics, and as we continue to navigate the COVID pandemic. 

Rodriguez says she sees these projects as a way to “reinvigorate the normalization of breastfeeding.”  

On August 31,  NMBTF will present the Lactation Art Gallery and Auction. Artists should submit their work by August 1. Find more information here.  

You can support NMBTF’s work by becoming a member or joining a chapter. Those interested can also donate monetarily to a variety of efforts. Find NMBTF across various social media platforms to help spread the word about the work they’re doing. 

Rodriguez shares her gratitude and pride in some closing thoughts: “All of our chapters put so much heart into the work that they do. It feels really good to be able to support [them]. The task force is really heading in a new direction to ensure we’re coming from an equitable lens, supporting our families, communities and wellness.” 

Empathy in architecture

A friend of mine works in a healthcare building; her office, windowless. Stark white walls frame the shiny tiled floors in the also windowless laboratory that surrounds her office. Rectangular fluorescent lighting looms eerily overhead. Working in this space for the majority of her waking hours amounts to constant longing for sunshine and an overall agitated demeanor. I imagine the architect of this space wasn’t much of an empath.

Photo by Robert Katzki on Unsplash

This effect is being documented in a growing body of research demonstrating how color, texture and patterns affect human emotions.

Generally, humans are quite robot-like, performing our daily duties without a great deal of attention paid to the building structures, layouts or designs that we move through. 

“When we don’t notice the built environment, it’s silently affirming our right to be there, our value to society. When we do, too often it is because it’s telling us we don’t belong. Those messages can be so subtle that we don’t recognize them for what they are,” Kim Tingley writes, later quoting architect Joel Sanders: “‘We sleepwalk our way through the world…Unless a building interior is strikingly different or lavish or unusual, we are unaware of it.’” 

The first time I saw a lactation pod at an airport– unusual at the time– I had mixed emotions. Part of me became excited that this was an option for traveling, lactating, pumping, and breastfeeding people, but most of me scoffed, annoyed, thinking something along the lines of: “Of course breastfeeding moms would be given this messaging to go hide themselves away from the public eye.” 

What Tingley wrote, that our built environment affirms our right to be in a space, affirms our value to society, is certainly a powerful concept. 

The COVID pandemic has forced us to think more about the built spaces we move through, adding layers to this idea of how and what and who we value.  

In a recent episode of Uniquely Milwaukee Salam Fatayer of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee poses the question: “What could our city, neighborhoods and community spaces look like if they were created based on people’s emotional, psychological and social needs?”

Photo by Coasted Media on Unsplash

Local architects and scholars answer with ideas about how they’re supporting the users of the spaces they create, with the goal of making sure people feel safe, at peace and nurtured by those built environments. 

On Our Milky Way, we’ve had the honor of highlighting the work of those thinking about how built spaces affect birth, lactation and beyond. 

For example, in conjunction with the Institute of Patient-Centered Design, Inc., The MomFriendly Network created The Lactation Design program which consists of research and outreach projects to enable the Institute to contribute design resources that  improve accommodations to support breastfeeding. Read more about this project here: https://www.ourmilkyway.org/physical-environment-influences-breastfeeding-outcomes/ 

Renée Flacking and her colleagues’ work, Closeness and separation in neonatal intensive care, explores how architecture influences outcomes in neonatal units. Single-family room designs are increasingly replacing traditional open-bay units for reasons documented in their paper.

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC)

“This architectural structure provides the family with an opportunity to be with their child in the neonatal intensive care unit day and night providing facilities for parents’ basic needs including the need for privacy. This design has been suggested to be associated with a lower rate of hospital-acquired infections, similar to single patient rooms in adult intensive care (48), earlier full enteral nutrition, higher breastfeeding rates and a more soothing environment with, for example, lower ambient sound levels (49). As this design has been shown to reduce the length of stay in hospital significantly, for example, by 10 days in preterm infant below 30 weeks of gestation in a Swedish study (50), it shortens the time of separation for the infant from the home and family. Parents have reported that they felt that a single family room design in a NICU facilitated their presence with their infant (51), but the increase in parent–infant closeness gained by a single family room model during hospital care is not well documented in scientific literature.”

Read Our Milky Way’s coverage on this concept here

In stark contrast, attorney Leah Margulies recently shared in Protecting Breastfeeding in the United States: Time for Action on The Code that formula companies provide architectural designs to maternity care facilities in a deliberate attempt to separate dyads, making bonding and breastfeeding difficult and consequently,  families more likely to become reliant on their artificial products. It’s a sickening example of how the industry saturates our systems, down to the skeletons of our buildings.

Photo credit: Henrico County Public Library

Venturing beyond the very early postpartum period, it’s exciting to explore how community spaces are supporting young families. The Henrico County Public Library – Fairfield Area Library is accommodating families with their Computer Work + Play Stations which were conceptualized by library staff and materialized by architects at Quinn Evans and TMC Furniture staff. Read more about that inspiration and process here

Supporting lactation and breastfeeding in the workplace is a vital part of ensuring that lactating individuals feel valued. Setting up lactation spaces sometimes calls for innovation and creativity. You can explore our collection of stories about workplace accommodations in the stories below: 

CLC advances breastfeeding protection and support in the workplace

Workplace supports breastfeeding mother of triplets

Making Breastfeeding the Norm through The Breastfeeding Family-Friendly Community Designation (BFCD)

Alameda sergeant improves lactation space and support in county

Artist celebrates working mothers with ‘Liquid Gold’ project

Worksite program caters to nursing moms

Photo credit: Meredith W. Gonçalves

 

Pulling back the lens further, the architecture of communities themselves influences well-being too. One of the effects of redlining is poor health outcomes. Part of this equation involves the placement of industrial buildings and factories. Vann R. Newkirk II points out in Trump’s EPA Concludes Environmental Racism Is Real that The National Center for Environmental Assessment released a study indicating that BIPOC are much more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air. “Specifically, the study finds that people in poverty are exposed to more fine particulate matter than people living above poverty,” he writes.  

NICHQ hosts a webinar The Residual Impact of Historical Structural Inequities: Connecting Residential Segregation and Mortgage Discrimination to Current Infant Mortality and Breastfeeding Rates where maternal child health experts including speakers Jaye Clement, MPH, MPP, Brittney Francis, MPH, Kiddada Green, MAT, Arthur James, MD and Jessica Roach, LPN, BA, MPH share examples for supporting efforts to reduce infant mortality and improve maternal and infant health. 

Circling back to Tingley’s piece, the article raises the concern that although we’re equipped with knowledge about how under-resourced populations are being affected by current structures and practices,  “funding earmarked for expanding inclusivity [may] be diverted toward making existing facilities safer for those they already privilege.” 

Drawing on Sanders’ work, Tingley writes,  “Throughout history… the built environment has reflected and reinforced inequality by physically separating one group from another, often in the presumed interests of health or safety. Women-only bathrooms, so designated by men, supposedly preserved their innocence and chastity; white-only bathrooms separated their users from supposedly less ‘clean’ black people. It’s no coincidence that Covid-19 has disproportionately sickened and killed members of demographic groups — people who are black, Indigenous and Latino; who are homeless; who are immigrants — that have been targets of systemic segregation that increased their vulnerability. It’s also not hard to imagine the pandemic, and a person’s relative risk of infection, being used to justify new versions of these discriminatory practices.”

Art by Liz Richter, Photo by Leslie Rodriguez
Find more of Richter’s art here: https://www.lizrichterart.com/public-art

In this vein, Glenn Gamboa details where some funding gets funneled in a piece published this spring. 

“Twelve national environmental grant makers awarded $1.34 billion to organizations in the Gulf and Midwest regions in 2016 and 2017, according to a 2020 study by The New School’s Tishman Environment and Design Center. But only about 1% of it — roughly $18 million — was awarded to groups that are dedicated to environmental justice.” 

The climate crisis is an accelerating threat that is both affected by and affects architecture. 

“Architecture has to mediate between the perceived needs of the moment versus the unknowable needs of the future; between the immediate needs of our bodies and the desire to create something that will outlast generations,” Tingley goes on to write. 

Across the globe, architects push to be “mindful of their projects’ environmental impacts and resilience, including an emphasis on upcycling, the use of solar power, better building practices, and, of course, structural longevity,” Alyssa Giacobbe writes.  [More on ecological design here.] 

Alongside resilience and sustainability, there must be a focus on design that specifically serves mothers and their children. Mothers are too often left out, unseen, underserved despite there being about two billion of us worldwide, with an increasing likelihood of women becoming mothers

Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

Lisa Wong Macabasco puts it this way: “Although the experience of human reproduction touches all of us at least once in our lives, its effects remain taboo, under-researched and excluded from exhibitions and publications covering architecture and design history and practice. In these spheres, maternity is treated furtively or as unimportant, even as it defines the everyday experiences of many – some 6 million Americans are pregnant at any given time.” 

It isn’t surprising that “design for children, design for healthy spaces, design for those with disabilities, care of and for their colleagues – these discussions and follow through are happening largely through female-led firms and initiatives,”  Julia Gamolina comments in The Unspoken Burden on Women in Architecture

In an exciting development, Wong Macabasco describes design historians Amber Winick and Michelle Millar Fisher’s Designing Motherhood, “a first-of-its-kind exploration of the arc of human reproduction through the lens of design. Their endeavor encompasses a book, a series of exhibitions and public programs in Philadelphia, and a design curriculum taught at the University of Pennsylvania.” 

This is exciting, and it’s progress. But as Wong Macabasco quotes Juliana Rowen Barton– architecture and design historian and curator who also helped organize Designing Motherhood– “Progress is not the fact that this show happened – progress is these conversations continuing to happen.” 

Designing Motherhood is on view at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia through this month of May 2022.

It’s Black Maternal Health Week: “Building for Liberation: Centering Black Mamas, Black Families and Black Systems of Care”

April is National Poetry Month. “[It] reminds the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters,” says the Academy of American Poets.  In a beautiful convergence, this week is also Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW) nestled intentionally within National Minority Health Month

Written decades ago on a different continent,  Poem for South African Women by June Jordan resonates today with the message of fighting systemic racism. 

“We are the ones we have been waiting for,” Jordan penned.

It embodies the #BMHW22 theme, “Building for Liberation: Centering Black Mamas, Black Families and Black Systems of Care”. The theme reflects founding and leading organization Black Mamas Matter Alliance’s (BMMA) work in centering Black women’s scholarship, maternity care work, and advocacy across the full-spectrum of sexual, maternal, and reproductive health care, services, programs, and initiatives. 

The BMHW22 campaign is a week of awareness, activism, and community building intended to:

  • Deepen the national conversation about Black maternal health in the US;
  • Amplify community-driven policy, research, and care solutions;
  • Center the voices of Black Mamas, women, families, and stakeholders;
  • Provide a national platform for Black-led entities and efforts on maternal health, birth and reproductive justice; and
  • Enhance community organizing on Black maternal health.  [https://blackmamasmatter.org/bmhw/]

You can watch BMMA’s National Call surrounding the fifth-year anniversary of BMHW here which highlights all of the major activities happening online and across the nation in celebration of Black mothers and their families. On April 17, individuals have the opportunity to get to know the organizations that make up BMMA, Black-led organizations that are doing the work and making a difference for BIPOC families. Of those organizations is reproductive justice organization Restoring Our Own Through Transformation (ROOTT). ROOTT’s Jessica Roach’s TEDx talk is just one example that encapsulates both the maternal infant health crisis we find ourselves in and the triumphs that are to be elevated.