Houston County has peer breastfeeding support program

By Jesie Melde

Certified Lactation Specialist
Houston County Public Health


World Breastfeeding Week will be celebrated worldwide Aug. 1 through 7. The 2013 World Breastfeeding Week theme, Breastfeeding support: close to mothers, highlights the importance of providing support to breastfeeding families. August is also Breastfeeding Awareness Month.

Infant feeding is one of the most important decisions that new families make. Evidence is clear that breastfeeding is the ideal way to feed an infant. Research shows that infants who are not exclusively breastfed for their first six months of life are more likely to develop a wide range of chronic and acute diseases, including ear infections, diarrheal diseases, asthma, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, obesity and respiratory illnesses. Mothers also benefit from breastfeeding with a decreased risk for breast and ovarian cancers.

Despite most mothers wanting to breastfeed, many are met with multiple and complex barriers that keep them from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals. Support and encouragement from all angles can make success possible for mothers who wish to breastfeed. Negative attitudes and practices of the mother’s closest support network can pose a sizeable barrier, making it difficult for mothers and babies to successfully breastfeed.

“Learning how to breastfeed takes time and patience for new mothers and infants. It is important to remember that families, friends, healthcare providers, employers, childcare providers, communities and even the media play a crucial role in mother’s overall success with breastfeeding,” said Elizabeth Brooks, president of the International Lactation Consultant Association.

Appropriate breastfeeding support can build a mother’s confidence with breastfeeding. “It is critical that breastfeeding families be supported by their community. This support can be expressed by healthcare providers adopting policies and practices that assume breastfeeding as the normal feeding method for infants, by employers providing a private place and flexible work options to express breastmilk during the work day or by childcare providers talking to new families about how they support breastfeeding,” Brooks said.

Breastfeeding peer counselors, mother-to-mother support groups and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant certificants work in communities and can provide a wealth of knowledge to breastfeeding families.

An IBCLC is a certified healthcare professional with special knowledge and experience assisting breastfeeding families. The IBCLC can work in a variety of environments from hospitals to private practice to community health settings. Many work with employers and businesses to help establish worksite lactation support programs. To find a lactation consultant in your community with expertise in worksite lactation support, visit ILCA’s “Worksite Lactation Support” directory.

Mothers can also find a local IBCLC to help them with breastfeeding questions and concerns by visiting the “Find a Lactation Consultant” directory. Both directories can be found at www.ILCA.org.

In February of 2011, Fillmore and Houston Counties began a joint Peer Breastfeeding Support Program through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. There are four peer counselors, who have successfully breastfed one or more of their children, available to help expectant or new moms reach their breastfeeding goals. Each peer counselor receives special training in breastfeeding support as well as continuing education to keep well-informed of new or changing information.

Their job is to provide mothers with basic breastfeeding information and to give encouragement and support during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The peer counselors have regular phone contact with women during pregnancy. They can help answer infant feeding questions and help women prepare for breastfeeding before the baby arrives. After the baby is born, the peers will continue to make regular contact and can help answer breastfeeding questions or concerns. If the peers are unable to answer questions there is an IBCLC and other lactation professionals with extended education in lactation available to assist.

If you or someone you know is interested in the peer breastfeeding support program, please contact Fillmore County WIC 765-3898, option 2, or Houston County WIC 507-725-5816 for more information.