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.” 

Facilitating the bond between children and fathers or male-identifying partners

 There’s quite a bit of literature on why it is important for fathers to support breastfeeding, and robust recommendations on how fathers can be good support people.

Photo by Anna Shvets: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-man-in-blue-long-sleeves-playing-with-his-baby-11369399/

Specifically in Black communities though, there’s a “lack of resources for men to learn about and advocate for breastfeeding.”  George W. Bugg, Jr, et al. write in Breastfeeding Communities for Fatherhood: Laying the Groundwork for the Black Fatherhood, Brotherhood, and Manhood Movement  that “Black men deserve to be educated in culturally competent ways about prenatal and postpartum care to advocate for their partners. This is not happening in a systematic way in the Black community. In the Reproductive Justice space, Black men are basically being treated as if they are invisible.” 

As a whole, our nation lacks support for fathers and male identifying partners to bond with their babies. The father–infant relationship should be honored “in its own framework rather than as an alternative to mother–infant theory.” (Cheng 2011

Author Carolynn Darrell Cheng, et al points out in Supporting Fathering Through Infant Massage that “fathers may feel dissatisfied with their ability to form a close attachment with their infants in the early postpartum period, which, in turn, may increase their parent-related stress.”

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

Infant massage is such a neglected modality, especially in the NICU, where it reduces both the risk of sepsis and bilirubin levels, and gets babies home sooner because their brains mature more quickly and they gain weight faster,” Nikki Lee points out. 

Beyond its benefits to infants, Cheng and colleagues have found that “infant massage appears to be a viable option for teaching fathers caregiving sensitivity.” Their work showed that “fathers were helped by increasing their feelings of competence, role acceptance, spousal support, attachment, and health and by decreasing feelings of isolation and depression. Although not all fathers saw the direct benefit of infant massage instruction, they did note they enjoyed participating in an activity that gave them special time with their infants and appreciated the opportunity to meet other fathers.” 

More broadly, skin-to-skin contact has a positive effect on paternal attachment.  

The results from Effects of Father-Neonate Skin-to-Skin Contact on Attachment: A Randomized Controlled Trial identified touching as the highest-scoring Father-Child Attachment Scale (FCAS) subscale. 

Ontario artist Lindsay Foster’s viral image of fathers BJ Barone and Frankie Nelson meeting Baby Milo captures perfectly the flood of oxytocin that skin-to-skin affords fathers and male-identifying parents.

Fathers BJ (left) and Frankie (right) embrace their seconds-old-newborn boy Milo. Milo’s umbilical cord is still attached to the surrogate in this image.
Photo by Ontario artist Lindsay Foster.
Formerly published in: http://www.ourmilkyway.org/skin-to-skin-image-goes-viral/

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) identifies other ways in which fathers can be “empowered by a whole-of-society approach to fulfill their fathering capacity.” 

WABA suggests that fathers should be engaged and involved throughout the 1,000 days and health systems and care providers can provide knowledge on breastfeeding through antenatal visits, other breastfeeding classes and enabling their participation during labor and delivery and postnatally. 

Sufficient paternity or parental leave is vital to allow time to care for and bond with their new family. 

There is also “a need for greater vigilance against promotion and unethical marketing of breastmilk substitutes targeting fathers to ensure that they also get unbiased information.” [More here.] 

In our national sphere of advocacy, last month, Foundations of Fatherhood Summit hosted Wide World of Fathering  with a mission to advance fatherhood and families in Michigan communities and beyond. The speaker lineup was full of individuals passionate about fatherhood and working to shift the way we view males as parents. 

Presenter Reginald Day, CLC for instance, hosts a podcast called Get At Me Dad which reveals the true narrative of BIPOC fathers–”present, connected and raising strong families.”

Father-son duo Mark and Corey Perlman host another podcast called Nurturing Fathers based on the Nurturing Fathers Program

Last week, New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force Board Member Francisco J. Ronquillo hosted a Hearing our Voices virtual roundtable for fathers and male-identifying partners. 

Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere (ROBE), an organization which seeks to educate, equip, and empower men to impact an increase in breastfeeding rates and a decrease in infant mortality rates within the African-American communities, hosts a monthly virtual call where males can discuss maternal child health related topics.   

In partnership with Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), ROBE will host the 11th Annual Breastfeeding and Equity Summit in New Orleans from August 25  to 27, 2022 where presentations center on equity in breastfeeding, maternal health, fathers and partners, and infant health initiatives.

 

Our Milky Way past coverage on fathers

Photo by PNW Production: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-family-walking-together-on-a-boardwalk-8576210/

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Robert A. Lee, MA answers the call

A lasting bond 

Skin to skin image goes viral

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