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Nourishing new lives during a pandemic

Nourishing new lives during a pandemic

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Parents in general, but especially new parents, are always concerned for the health of their children. Parents worry – it’s in their job description. But, imagine welcoming a new child into the family during a worldwide pandemic, especially if you are first-time parents.

Giving birth during a worldwide pandemic is frightening enough. But now what, now that the baby is here? Moms and dads wonder, “How do I protect my baby’s health?” “What about breastfeeding?”

What about breastfeeding indeed. August was National Breastfeeding Month – a reminder that breastfeeding has numerous health benefits, not only for the baby but for mothers. A recent exhaustive six-year global study, “The Cost of Not Breastfeeding,” found that breastfeeding “helps prevent diarrhea and pneumonia in babies, which are key contributors to infant deaths globally, and it protects mothers from ovarian and breast cancer.”

Besides a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer, mothers who breastfeed also have a lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and postpartum depression. Babies who are breastfed the recommended duration (exclusively for the first six months, and with solids for up to a year) have fewer colds, ear and throat infections, fewer hospitalizations for respiratory infections, and a reduced risk of asthma, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, childhood obesity and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Despite these advantages, many women give up long before the recommended duration.

Why do so many women give up after a few months? Breastfed babies are healthier, but breastfeeding is not always easy during the best of times. Local statistics tell us that the vast majority of women want and intend to breastfeed, but few are still breastfeeding at the one-year mark. While some women have physical difficulties, new moms most often cite a lack of familial and workplace support and accommodation.

A recently published study also reports that new moms face an overwhelming lack of support when breastfeeding or breast pumping in public, from both men and women. Despite the fact that breastfeeding-friendly workplaces have been shown to decrease employee absenteeism by up to 57% while enhancing employee productivity, loyalty and morale, many workplaces have been slow to truly support breastfeeding employees. Nebraska law now requires larger employers to provide time and a safe, sanitary and private space that’s not a bathroom for mothers to pump breastmilk at work.

Bringing awareness: two simple messages. Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln (healthylincoln.org), a nonprofit focusing on community health and health disparities, worked with other nonprofits, including local cultural centers, to understand the concerns of the breastfeeding moms they all serve. Through focus groups, many moms and their partners revealed they were unaware moms had a legal right to breastfeed in public as well as the state and federal legal requirements for employers. Similar to national studies, Lincoln moms also wished for more family, partner, workplace and community support.

As a result, Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln, through a CDC REACH grant, launched a public awareness campaign in English and Spanish using StarTran buses, or “moving billboards,” as Tami Frank, Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln’s Breastfeeding Program coordinator, refers to them. The buses have two simple messages, both on the exterior and interior of the buses – support breastfeeding moms because breastfed babies are healthier, and moms have the legal right to breastfeed anywhere. Thanks to the Malone Community Center, some of the buses feature local moms breastfeeding outdoors with the State Capitol in the background. The campaign will run through October.

Throwing COVID-19 into the mix. But families have also wondered if it was safe to breastfeed during a pandemic. With a virus this new, who would know? MilkWorks (milkworks.org), under the medical direction of Dr. Kathy Leeper, a breastfeeding medicine specialist, is providing information, guidance and updates about breastfeeding during COVID-19. MilkWorks is a nonprofit community breastfeeding center in Lincoln and Omaha that offers a wide range of education, support and clinical services to help mothers breastfeed their babies. They continue to provide clinical services by appointment, virtual education and support, and curbside pickup for breast pumps.

Peer-to-peer support. MilkWorks also coordinates the Community Breastfeeding Educator (CBE) program through a collaboration with Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln. CBEs provide culturally sensitive breastfeeding support and education to new moms in several languages, as well as to teen moms. Prior to COVID-19, CBEs were working with moms in their homes, churches, on-site at community or cultural centers, community clinics or other nonprofits.

With the advent of COVID-19, the CBEs have continued to provide online and telephone support to their moms. Concerned with the health risk of COVID-19, the CBEs recently spearheaded a multi-language video campaign (HealthyLNK You Tube) to encourage husbands, partners, family members and the community to don face masks to protect the health of new moms and babies. The videos were widely shared and have been seen nearly 2,000 times.

With lower breastfeeding rates in the black community, the Malone Center and its onsite CBE have also launched a series of videos in collaboration with LNKTV Health (LNKTVhealth.lincoln.ne.gov), featuring moms of color discussing their breastfeeding journeys and the support they have received from Malone.

Finding resources. For information and links to many breastfeeding support resources in Lincoln, visit healthylincoln.org/breastfeeding.

Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln (HealthyLincoln.org) and LNKTV Health (LNKTVhealth.lincoln.ne.gov) bring you Health and the City, a monthly column that examines relevant community health issues and spotlights the local organizations that impact community wellness. Direct questions or comments to jpearsonanderson@healthylincoln.org.

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