African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN) is outside and celebrating connection and community

Photo by Criativa Pix Fotografia

For 15 years, the African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN) has been leading and immersed in integral work to improve maternal child health outcomes in the Greater Milwaukee area.

AABN was founded by Angelia Wilks-Tate and Dalvery Blackwell who set out to  address breastfeeding disparities through a community-led organization. Blackwell now serves as the organization’s first executive director and Wilks-Tate serves as the President of the Board Directors.

Photo by julio andres rosario ortiz

AABN hosts healing spaces for birth workers, facilitates doula trainings including the HealthConnect One community doula training and WeRISE Community Doula Program, celebrates father involvement, holds space for bereaved parents, fights for birth and reproductive justice, and more and more and more. Simply visit their Facebook page and you’ll catch a glimpse of the passion, the wisdom, comradery, fun, and the dedication. You can also read about their 2020 impact here.

Yesterday, the organization and its partners hosted their ninth annual  Lift Up Every Baby! Celebration.  Lift Up Every Baby “is all about the blissful happiness we experience when our community comes together to celebrate, securing our collective power to help create spaces of health and wellness!” the organization shared with their social media followers. Pregnant people and young families were invited to experience a community-drive and  “family-centered afternoon of festivities, celebrations, good food and positive vibes.”

The event fit perfectly into Black Breastfeeding Week’s (BBW) 2023 theme: We Outside! Celebrating Connection & Our Communities.

https://blackbreastfeedingweek.org/

Perhaps one of the most touching moments of each year’s event is the opening ceremony made possible by Zakiya Courtney celebrating participants’ cultural heritage and values.

You can check out footage from last year’s event here and stay tuned for reports from this year’s celebration here.

Monumental ‘Skin-to-skin contact after birth: Developing a research and practice guideline’ calls for immediate, continuous, uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for all mothers and all babies from 1000 grams, after all modes of birth

In Western culture, we tend to trust the process of pregnancy and the capability of a human body to grow and nourish a fetus, but there’s a moment between then and the approaching birth of the baby and beyond when that confidence is lost. Among other reasons, loss of trust in the female body forces mostly unnecessary and often harmful interventions on the process of labor and birth. Thereafter, though the safest place for most newborns immediately after birth is skin-to-skin with their birthing parent, common maternity practices often strip the dyad of this sacred, critical transition diminishing the capability of the mother and the infant.

As the authors of The nine stages of skin‐to‐skin: practical guidelines and insights from four countries put it, alarmingly, “despite the research and compelling directives from world authorities, the implementation of immediate, continuous and uninterrupted SSC for all healthy mothers and newborns, regardless of feeding choice, has not become standard practice.”

Last month, Kajsa Brimdyr, et al published the monumental Skin-to-skin contact after birth: Developing a research and practice guideline.

Authors not in order of appearance: Kajsa Brimdyr, Jeni Stevens, Kristin Svensson, Anna Blair, Cindy Turner-Maffei, Julie Grady, Louise Bastarache, Abla al Alfy, Jeannette T. Crenshaw, Elsa Regina Justo Giugliani, Uwe Ewald, Rukhsana Haider, Wibke Jonas, Mike Kagawa, Siri Lilliesköld, Ragnhild Maastrup, Ravae Sinclair, Emma Swift, Yuki Takahashi, Karin Cadwell

It’s an “excellent overview of the huge quantity of evidence supporting skin-to-skin contact after birth and give evidence-based guidelines, endorsing the recommendations of the World Health Organisation, that ‘immediate, continuous, uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact should be the standard of care for all mothers and all babies (from 1000 grams with experienced staff if assistance is needed), after all modes of birth,’” Andrew Whitelaw writes in this editorial.

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC)

In the review, the expert panel– representing all continents but Antarctica– sifted through roughly 8,000 articles and ultimately pared down to only include those with a clear definition of immediate, continuous, uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact.

The panel concluded that “delaying non-essential routine care in favour of uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact after birth has been shown to be safe and allows for the progression of newborns through their instinctive behaviours.”

The guideline includes the Pragmatic Implementation Guide for Skin-to-Skin Contact after Birth which serves as a how-to for staff, preparing them to facilitate skin-to-skin contact before and during the birth. The document is downloadable here: Appendix S1.

Brimdyr points out that none of the information presented is new; instead it’s consolidated in a way that hasn’t been done before.

“It takes the expertise of so many people and puts it in one place,” she explains.

Brimdyr says she believes it will give practitioners the confidence to make this practice work for moms and their infants.

“All of these babies, all of our mothers really deserve this opportunity,” Brimdyr advocates. “They deserve to have the best start.  This research is so well established… the fact that we’re not doing it everywhere is absolutely upsetting.”

Also last month, Brimdyr released a new film, The 9 Stages of Premature Infants, which documents  the nine stages as demonstrated by premature infants. The film brings to life the implementation of facilitating skin-to-skin for this population of infants and their parents.

“There is something absolutely magical seeing how capable babies are that really transforms any words on a page into reality,” Brimdyr says. “The research has been there to say premature babies can do this, but it’s so much more powerful to see premature infants do this.”

You can find a collection of skin-to-skin research here.

Opportunity to submit comments on the most recent World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative’s (WBTi) report for the United States and territories

The amount of work that needs to be done to improve families’ lives can sometimes feel paralyzing. Over the next few weeks though, individuals and organizations will have the opportunity to engage with an important endeavor: submitting comments on the most recent World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative’s (WBTi) report for the United States and territories.

The WBTi report assesses the status of benchmarks on the progress of implementation of the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding.

The first national assessment in the U.S. was completed in 2016 with an update made in the spring of 2019.

The U.S. as a nation scores consistently low in most indicators.

In 2017, Healthy Children Project also released a national report based on the WBTi criteria that monitors the progress of infant and young child feeding (IYCF) in each of the 50 U.S. states plus six  territories.

This year, the subject matter expert panel is calling on any individual with an interest in maternal child health to submit their comments on the next update by June 30. In order to include any initiative on the report, the information must be documented on a publicly available source.

Healthy Children Project presented the preliminary reports at the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s National Conference and Convening June 8- 10 to gain feedback from state coalitions.

What we measure as a nation is what we value, thus the report helps guide lactation policy by gauging the success of current practices and determining where improvement is needed.

On a state, organizational or individual level, the reports can help channel opportunities to engage in areas where states are lacking.

Find the preliminary reports and submit comments here: www.wbtiusa.org

You will need to enter your email address to receive a password, which will allow you to suggest changes and additions.

The Details

WHO: Individuals vested in maternal child health in the U.S. and territories

WHAT: 2023 World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative’s (WBTi) report for the United States and territories

WHEN: Now until June 30

HOW: www.wbtiusa.org

WHY: To help guide and improve maternal child health policy

‘Our Milky Way’ is 10

It has been 10 years since we authored our first blog post here on Our Milky Way. Ten. Years. This milestone is accompanied by a myriad of emotions!

I’m so proud of our collection of publications, promoting fantastic work by fantastic people.

I am stunned by the elusiveness of time; I first took the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC)– which propelled me into this work– when my first child was only a few months old and now she is 11.

I am deeply grateful for everything I’ve learned from our participants and my colleagues and mentors who have shaped this blog. It’s such a thrill to connect with people across the continent and across the oceans, and I consider it such a privilege to have spent time with all of the beautiful minds featured on this blog.

I am both discouraged and encouraged. Scrolling through a decade’s worth of stories leaves me inspired by maternal child health advocates’ tireless work and triumphs both big and small. Lactation spaces have been carved out and employers have adopted breastfeeding-friendly policies, breastfeeding murals have been painted, generous human milk donations have been made, babies have gone skin-to-skin in the operating room, World Breastfeeding Weeks have been celebrated, important research has been conducted and published, and the accomplishments go on and on!

I’m also disheartened by the darker spaces where negative forces are at play like conflict among care providers, our culture’s disconnect between birth and breastfeeding, systemic racism, no paid parental leave, and the pervasive industry influence in infant feeding and beyond. These, among other forces, leave the United States consistently dangling near the bottom of the WBTi World Ranking list.

Despite our country’s poor performance in supporting healthy beginnings, I still find myself with a sense of wonder and cautious optimism for what the next decade holds for familial, community and global health.

In celebration of Our Milky Way’s 10th birthday, we’re launching a series called “Breastfeeding is…” For ten weeks, we will revisit a topic that describes breastfeeding. This series was inspired specifically by our 2013 piece Breastfeeding is… where Healthy Children Project faculty emeritus Barbara O’Connor, RN, BSN, IBCLC, ANLC discusses what breastfeeding can be and the cultural forces at odds with positive health outcomes.

Join us in celebrating and honoring healthy infant feeding by sharing what breastfeeding means to you. You can post in the comments below, find us on social media @centerforbreastfeeding, or email us at info@ourmilky.org.

What’s more, I am so pleased to announce that we will be giving away an online learning module with contact hours each week of our 10 week celebration. Here’s how to enter into the drawings:

Email info@ourmilkyway.org with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.

This week, in the body of the email, tell us what breastfeeding means to you. Subsequent weeks will have a different prompt in the blog post.

We will conduct a new drawing each week over the 10-week period.  Please email separately each week to be entered in the drawing. You may only win once. If your name is drawn, we will email a link with access to the learning module. The winner of the final week will score a grand finale swag bag.

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/

New CLC engages fathers, supports breastfeeding, heals communities

Fathers profoundly influence breastfeeding outcomes

Founder of Fathers’ Uplift adopted into breastfeeding movement

The Institute of Family & Community Impact hosts event to boost paternal mental health

Paternal mental health and engagement

Robert A. Lee, MA answers the call

A lasting bond 

Skin to skin image goes viral

Changing families demand changing policies