/This program is helping Black women in Mississippi breastfeed

This program is helping Black women in Mississippi breastfeed

INDIANOLA — Kaylyn was never going to breastfeed her daughters. Breastfeeding, like nearly a third Mississippi’s new mothers, was not high on her postpartum priorities. Formula was an easy substitute, even though she wasn’t taught or encouraged to breastfeed. Walker, now 24, met with a lactation specialist to help her with a postpartum issue. She learned that breastfeeding has many benefits, including improved nutrition, emotional bonding, and long-term health. Her second child, Kylie, was born one year ago and she continues to breastfeed. Walker stated that although it was an unfamiliar experience, she is now comfortable with the process. She shared the sentiments of many new mothers. At first it was scary, as she didn’t know if she was producing enough milk or if it was correct. Walker said that she has seen the emotional and health benefits as she gets more comfortable with it. “It builds a strong relationship with her as well. It feels like she’s more attached.” This is where the Delta Baby Cafe comes in. Despite the recent pandemic, the cafe is still busy providing support for new parents, including emotional and physical support. The Baby Cafe, a public intervention in the Delta Health Alliance’s breastfeeding support program for Sunflower County, is part support program and part medical intervention. It is all community-based, so moms can meet them where they are. Walker is one of 20 mothers who receive logistical tips, such as how to position her baby for feeding, and help accessing resources like a breast pump. Walker stated, “I began attending the breastfeeding classes, and then it just got easier.” It’s definitely a more challenging experience than with her first child. As I mentioned, I didn’t intend to stay this long. But, as I said, my daughter is a good judge of whether or not she enjoys it. It helps her immune system. Anything that helps her, I’m OK with it.” The Baby Cafe is part of Delta Health Alliance’s partnership to increase breastfeeding rates and improve maternal and infant health outcomes. This partnership is called BUILD Health Challenge, which stands for bold, upstream integrated, local, data-driven, and integrates with South Sunflower County Hospital. The program was launched in November 2019 and aims to bring together community stakeholders, including businesses, childcare providers, social services, and health care providers to help moms get support early and often. Breastfeeding has been shown to have health benefits for both mother and baby. This includes a lower risk of sudden death, obesity, and asthma for babies. It also reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and some types of high blood sugar. Mississippi has many barriers to breastfeeding, including low education, stigma and high-cost supplies. Advocates say that understanding the reasons why black mothers are less likely than white moms to breastfeed should guide strategies to increase their chances. Research shows that breastfeeding is a dynamic decision and should be encouraged. It is not an easy decision. Complex histories, stigma, and preexisting health inequalities all play into it. Although breastfeeding is an important part of reversing the trend of poor maternal outcomes for Black women in terms of their health, it also offers an opportunity to give women more freedom and control over their decisions, according to Jacqueline Lambert who founded Indianola’s Baby Cafe last year. Lambert stated that women make up the majority of our workforce. When programs are made available to women and there is support for them, it becomes a part of a woman’s health. I believe that most of the stigma is due to people not seeing it. It’s not normal to see something. BUILD is working to close this gap by educating employers about the economic and social advantages of breastfeeding mothers. Lambert says that Mississippi mothers are legally allowed to breastfeed anywhere they like, but stigmatization and lack of support from the workplace still prevent them from doing so. Multiple bills that would have supported the practice through promotion and licensing of lactation specialists, as well as legislation to codify the right to breastfeed were defeated by the Mississippi Legislature in 2006. Lambert, a 14-year-old Women, Infants and Children (WIC), counselor and lactation specialist at Baby Cafe, stated that many Black mothers aren’t “seen nursing” and don’t often see their milk as nourishment for their baby, which can lead to stigmas in Black communities. We don’t see many people who are similar to us nursing in our communities. That stigma means that nobody does it. Lambert stated that nobody is allowed to nurse or people aren’t required to. Moms will nurse babies in hospitals because they view it as medicine. It is a medicine that you see, not nourishment or nutrition. This makes it take on a different stance.” Mississippi and Alabama have the lowest breastfeeding rates. There, 70% of infants are ever-breasted, while 84% of Americans do so nationally. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants should be exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their lives. They can then be weaned onto other foods for the remainder of the first year. Mississippi’s six-month mark is when less than 40% of infants still breastfeed at this time. To make it sustainable, plans must be made before the baby is born. Breastfeeding should also occur immediately after birth. Mississippi is not the only state where this is possible. Lambert, a lactation specialist, says that hospital support for breastfeeding must go beyond the medical benefits. About half of the state’s 40 hospitals are “baby friendly” meaning that they have pledged to help new mothers start breastfeeding and encourage skin-to-skin contact after birth. The only hospital that is baby-friendly in the Delta is South Sunflower, Indianola. Research has shown that hospitals with a baby-friendly rating are more likely help mothers to breastfeed. Nine years ago, Janesiya Brooks was warned by nurses not to breastfeed with Dequan her first child, due to a previous breast reduction. Jahmar was her second child. She failed again. She said that she gave up and fell into depression. Janesiya Brooks (26), outside her Greenwood Miss. Home discusses her wedding and the support she received from the Delta Baby Cafe. Brooks, 26, decided to continue breastfeeding during pregnancy with Trinity, her third child. She reached out to help this time. She joined Baby Cafe’s breastfeeding classes last year. There she received constant support, education, and proper latching techniques for the first time. “Lambert” would always provide helpful information. She showed a video to show how babies latch on. Lambert said that she was available to help mothers whenever they needed it. She also offered resources and advice if needed. The Baby Cafe was established in order to provide support for breastfeeding moms who may not have access elsewhere. She is a former WIC support counselor and knows that sustainable breastfeeding requires more than just showing mothers how to get their baby to drink. Consistent breastfeeding is not easy. It takes time. Lambert stated that most mothers won’t think twice about breastfeeding if it seems forced. She says that the opposite approach can make all the difference. Lambert is a support person, usually a parent or partner, who listens to mothers about their feeding habits. Brooks had Lambert help her fiance to learn how to support them and their baby at home. Walker’s young mother was encouraged to breastfeed by Lambert when she met her at the local health department. This is an example of why it’s so important to meet mothers wherever they are and fill in the gaps left behind by other services. Lambert is Walker’s greatest cheerleader a year later. Walker doesn’t always attend the weekly breastfeeding support groups anymore now that she’s got the hang of it, but she says Lambert is on speed-dial to help with anything that arises — breastfeeding-related or otherwise. Walker stated that she will stop breastfeeding once the year has been a success. “I’m just on her time,” Walker said. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today.