Reflecting on National Breastfeeding Month: #NBM21 in Review

As National Breastfeeding Month comes to a close today, we reflect on the activities and learnings on promoting breastfeeding intention, initiation, and duration during the month of August 2021. From the first-ever National Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Breastfeeding Week to Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association’s Michigan Community-Based Doula Summit, we are inspired by the stories of resilience, support, and cultural preservation to strengthen breastfeeding across communities.

Our highlights from National Breastfeeding Month include:

  • The Chicago Regional Breastfeeding Taskforce Baby Shower celebrating World Breastfeeding Week on August 7th,
    where HealthConnect One provided baby supplies and information on COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy/lactation.
  • #FoodFri Twitter Chat on Breastfeeding/Chestfeeding + Food Health, led by Moms Rising on August 13th. View the full conversation here.
  • Completion of Breastfeeding Advocate Training with Cohort 1 The training, a major component of the First Food Equity Project supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, will train close to 100 Black, Brown, and Indigenous individuals serving birthing communities of color. Learn more here.
Breastfeeding Advocate Training for Cohort 1
  • Op-Ed on Why We Need A Black Breastfeeding Week by LaBrisa Williams, the Executive Director of the Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative, a HealthConnect One community-based doula replication site. 
  • LacationLegislation Instagram Live on Ausgust 25th we kicked off #BlackBreastfeedingWeek with a conversation on the impact of legislation on lactation for Black birthing people with Tina Sherman of MomsRising.
  • Breastfeeding Engagement During the Pandemic Twitter Chat on August 26th we discussed Breastfeeding Engagement and Support During the Pandemic alongside our partnersBlack Mothers Breastfeeding Association, Chicago Regional Breastfeeding Taskforce, Reaching our Sisters Everywhere, and the Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project. Read the full conversation here.
  • Lactation Across Borders Roundtable Discussion to close out National Breastfeeding Month we held a roundtable discussion on “Lactation Across Borders: Breastfeeding and Lactation Culture and Practice within Immigrant Communities.” During thediscussion, panelists working with immigrant communities across America to strengthen their maternal and child health outcomes shared their insights on supporting breastfeeding within these communities. Replay will be avaiblae soon here.

Post image credit: Black and Brown Breastfeeding Week Denver Facebook Page

Further Reading

HealthConnect One Awarded NJ Department of Health Grant To Strengthen, Expand Community Doulas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE // August 26, 2021

Trenton, New Jersey – The New Jersey Department of Health today announced the award of a grant to HealthConnect One to develop a diverse community doula workforce to support women during pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting.

HealthConnect One will establish a Doula Learning Collaborative to increase the number of trained community doulas — professionals who provide culturally appropriate, social and emotional support to pregnant women throughout the prenatal period, labor and delivery, as well as the postpartum period. The Doula Learning Collaborative will also support doulas in engaging with multiple health systems and process Medicaid reimbursement claims for their services.

“Community doulas have the inherent local knowledge and understanding that enables them to provide culturally responsive care to our mothers during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum,” said First Lady Tammy Murphy. “Doula care can lead to lower rates of maternal and infant health complications, fewer preterm births and low-birthweight infants, higher rates of breastfeeding, and so much more. Doulas amplify mothers’ voices and listen to their needs, ultimately improving birth outcomes for mothers and babies of color.”

The Doula Learning Collaborative is part of First Lady Tammy Murphy’s Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan released in January 2021. The goal of the plan is to reduce New Jersey’s maternal mortality by 50 percent over five years and eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes. It is a culmination of more than a year of in-person and virtual meetings with more than 100 critical stakeholders including national public health experts, New Jersey state departments and agencies, health systems, physicians, doulas, community organizations, and mothers and families.

“Research demonstrates that support from a doula is associated with lower caesarian section rates, fewer obstetric interventions, fewer complications, and the improved health of mothers and babies after delivery,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.

HealthConnect One, based in Chicago, IL., is a national leader in advancing birth equity and has a 35-year history of collaborating with communities to support under-resourced Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities and birthing families to achieve positive health outcomes.

Currently, there are approximately 79 doulas that were trained and certified through Department of Health pilot programs and another 150 to 200 private practice doulas working independently in the state.

The Department of Health, Division of Family Health Services Reproductive and Perinatal Health Services awarded the grant after a competitive request for proposals was issued in March. The review committee agreed the firm could successfully create a diverse community doula workforce by implementing and recruiting a diverse Advisory Board; provide training, clinical supervision, technical support, leadership development, and advocacy for doulas, and develop a plan for the Doula Learning Collaborative.

The organization’s contract for $450,000 is for one year with the possibility of continuation of funding for two additional years based on performance in prior years and availability of funds.

For more information on Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan, please visit https://nj.gov/governor/admin/fl/nurturenj.shtml

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Media Contact: Zainab Sulaiman, HealthConnect One Director of Communications & Advocacy
Tel: (202)440-1576 Email: zsulaiman@healthconnectone.org

Op-ed "Why We Need a Black Breastfeeding Week" at the top, with an image of the author at the bottom.

Op-ed: Why We Need a Black Breastfeeding Week

August is National Breastfeeding Month, and in the U.S., there’s also a time to commemorate and uplift Black Breastfeeding Week during the last week of the month. As with many similar commemorations, some might question the need for a separate event based on race. All babies can benefit from breastfeeding. Why the need for Black Breastfeeding Week?

Let me answer that question with one word: history. As a Tulsa, Oklahoma native, I’ve spent the months since the 100th anniversary of my hometown’s race massacre considering how tragedies in our past shape our present when it comes to healthcare in America.

Some of my work as Executive Director of the Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative focuses on helping communities understand our history and how we got to this place in our healthcare journey. It’s my job to increase access to Birth Workers of color as a way to address health inequities in Tulsa and build healthier families. 

Health and employment disparities in medical care

Black Breastfeeding Week organizers highlight that 75% of white women have breastfed versus only 58.9% of Black women, with a lack of diversity in the lactation field identified as a key part of the issue. Sadly, health disparities we see today are the result of decades of Black loss and missed opportunities for justice.

For many women, much of the first practical advice they receive around breastfeeding comes in a healthcare setting, at a clinic, or in the hospital shortly after delivery. Though advice and guidance from trusted family and friends is crucial, any problems or deficits are usually diagnosed by a doctor, midwife, or nurse.

For Black women, the chances that this medical practitioner will be a person of color are slim. As of 2019, only 2.6% of the nation’s doctors identified as Black or African-American, and in 2020 these groups accounted for a mere 7.3% of students enrolled in medical school. 

But do you know why these numbers are so low? Some might conclude that Black Americans can’t cut it in higher education, or they simply don’t choose to study medicine at the same rate. History tells a different story.

For example, have you ever heard of The Flexner Report? Also referred to as “Medical Education in the United States and Canada,” it was published in 1910 by American educator Abraham Flexner, with backing from the Carnegie Foundation. The Flexner Report has been credited for transforming and standardizing medical education. It called for significant improvements to medical education, higher admission standards, adherence to scientific methods in research and practice, and oversight by state licensure boards.

Racist beliefs in Flexner Report led to lack of Black hospitals, doctors

However, while it may have helped standardize medical care, The Flexner Report exacted a steep cost for medical schools without the funds to implement the changes.

Five of seven medical schools committed to educating Black physicians closed as a result of The Flexner report. A study published in August 2020 estimated that if those five schools had remained open, an additional 35,315 Black physicians would have entered the workforce in the years that followed, producing a 29% increase in the number of graduating African-American physicians in 2019 alone.

In addition, the medical schools that remained opened were unlikely to admit Black students due to Flexner’s beliefs about Black people and their role in medical education. In November of 2020, The Association of American Medical Colleges renamed their prestigious Abraham Flexner award due to his racist and sexist ideologies. In Chapter 14 of The Flexner Report, titled “The Medical Education of the Negro,” Flexner states that Black people should be trained in sanitation because he believed, “A well-taught negro sanitarian will be immensely useful; an essentially untrained negro wearing an M.D. degree is dangerous,” Flexner wrote.

Where did this lead? A report published in June 2020 by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a worsened doctor shortage of between 54,100 and 193,000 by 2033.

Changing outcomes

This all equals bad outcomes for Black patients. We know that a diverse workforce, training, and cultural competence are essential aspects of quality healthcare. Studies confirm that communities of color benefit from being seen by doctors of color.

The foundation of the U.S. Medical system was never intended to address our needs, support our families, repair our wounds and nurture our children. In other words, the system works beautifully for the people it was designed to support, and everybody else is on their own. Many people will overlook the role Abraham Flexner played in shaping the trajectory of the physician workforce, but if we continually fail to examine these lessons, we will struggle to move forward.

To solve a problem, we have to understand it. The Flexner Report may not be as violent as many of the historic crimes committed against Black people. Yet, its implications are still being felt today in ways both obvious and subtle, from the shortage of Black doctors to the appalling Black maternal mortality rate.

As we consider the solutions, it will take reflection and discomfort if we want to get at the nuances of the inequities we see today. So, yes, we need a Black Breastfeeding Week and so much more.

This op-ed was written by LaBrisa Williams, the Executive Director of the Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative, a HealthConnect One community-based doula replication site. LaBrisa is a 2021 Aspen Institute Healthy Communities Fellow. This article was originally published in The Black Wall Street Times.

Background contains a side image of the U.S. Capitol, with a Green Overlay with Text saying: "Dear Congress, we need permanent maternal health aid"

Congress, We Need Permanent Maternal Health Aid

Our country’s maternal health crisis is an active policy choice – one that enables entirely preventable deaths of our nation’s mamas, birthing people, and infants. Lawmakers need to include measures tackling maternal health disparities in the upcoming reconciliation package. Earlier this week, HealthConnect One joined 200+ groups and organizations pressing congress to make maternal health aid permanent in a letter to congressional leaders.

The letter provides specific recommendations that will ensure coverage for biting people, build out maternal health services that center racial equity, and result in investment in community-based efforts. The recommendations are as follows:

  • Congress should close the Medicaid coverage gap, guaranteeing people in all states have access to affordable coverage and to the full range of health care benefits, including necessary and preventive health care services. Closing the coverage gap is critical not only for better maternal health but also to achieve broader health equity.
  • Congress should advance the policies included in the Momnibus, making needed investments in maternal care. The provisions address deep inequities for pregnant people of color; specifically their access to mental health services, a culturally competent perinatal workforce, and prevention services.
  • Congress should prioritize investments that direct much-needed resources to community-based partners that are working on the front lines to address the racial inequities of maternal health through culturally congruent, place-based caregiving.

Community-led efforts in collaboration with adequate funding and appropriate legislation will reverse the rates of maternal and infant mortality for Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. Alongside other organizations, we urge Congress to include these critical provisions in the next legislative package, a move that will advance reproductive justice and improve health equity for birthing families across America..

Lactation Across Borders

National Breastfeeding Month | Roundtable Discussion

 

Date: August 30th | Time: 2:00 PM EST | ZOOM Webinar

The declining health status of immigrant groups through generations is varied and complex, as are the breastfeeding practices and available support across communities.

To close out National Breastfeeding Month, HealthConnect One is hosting a roundtable discussion on “Lactation Across Borders: Breastfeeding and Lactation Culture and Practice within Immigrant Communities.”

During this discussion, panelists working with immigrant communities across America to strengthen their maternal and child health outcomes will share their insights on supporting breastfeeding within these communities.

Speakers

Charlene McGee | REACH Program Manager @Multnomah County Health Department
Charlene McGee, MPA serves as the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) Program Manager. REACH is a five-year funded program by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address chronic disease disparities. In this capacity, she leads targeted policy, systems, environmental and communication strategies to redress chronic disease disparities and informs division-wide goals, monitors program performance, and assess outcomes to eliminate health disparities and cultivate a culture of Black Health for Multnomah County Black and African immigrant residents. A self-proclaimed Liberian-Oregonian, Charlene’s experience as a survivor of the Liberian civil war and a Black immigrant has heavily influenced her career trajectory. Her career spans more than 20 years, serving in a variety of roles

To-wen Tseng | Volunteer Blogger @San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition
To-wen Tseng is a TV reporter turned independent journalist and author. She writes about parenting, education, and family lifestyle for a variety of publications. She is an award-winning blogger and has authored six books. To-wen is also a passionate breastfeeding activist. She received a rude awakening when returning to her previous newsroom after giving birth to her first child in 2013 and was denied breastfeeding rights, which eventually resulted in her separation from that company. Since that experience, To-wen has dedicated her career to advocating for family-friendly policy and gender equity at the workplace and speaking out about breastfeeding barriers in Asian-American communities and beyond. She writes for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition and MomsRising; co-founded API Breastfeeding Task Force and AANHPI Breastfeeding Week.

Monica Esparza | Executive Director @New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force
Monica Esparza is currently the Executive Director of the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force. She is a trained CLC and Community Interpreter who previously served families as a breastfeeding peer counselor for more than 10 years, providing peer-to-peer support to lactating families through the WIC program both individually and in the hospital setting. She participated as a Leader in the Health Connect One Birth Leadership Academy and the NM Women of Color Leaders in Non-profit. She has served on different boards and currently sits on the National College of Midwifery Board. As a Mexican, Immigrant woman living in the south valley of Albuquerque, she brings a grassroots community approach and an equity lens into her work. She understands the importance of centering families and BIPOC communities in everything that we do. She enjoys hiking and gardening with her husband and 2 children.

Maya Jackson | Executive Director @MAAME, Inc.
Maya Jackson is a mother, community organizer, breastfeeding advocate, full-spectrum doula, and the founder and Executive Director of MAAME, Inc. (Mobilizing African American Mothers through Empowerment). A native of Durham, North Carolina, she graduated from North Carolina Central University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Sociology. She has over ten years of working in nonprofit leadership in the arts and public health. In 2018 Maya became a birth doula and Milky Mommas International Lactation Peer Counselor. She eventually founded and launched MAAME, Inc. MAAME, a community-rooted maternal health organization whose mission is to support Black and other birthing people of color. This fall, Jackson will begin working towards her MPH and MBA at Benedictine University.

Stevie Merino
Stevie Merino is a community organizer, mom, anthropologist, birthworker, and proud islander woman–CHamoru (Guam) & Boricua (Puerto Rico). Much of Stevie’s work has been in efforts to uplift the voices of Pacific Islanders, who are often afterthoughts in discussions, resources, and invitations to the table. Stevie’s research in anthropology focuses on Pacific Islander birth traditions and birth disparities specifically on Chamorro’s in Southern California. Stevie presents her research at various academic conferences around the country, where she centers the experience and voices of Pacific Islanders that are often left out of these spaces. She is the co-creator & trainer of The Birth Workers of Color Collective and Long Beach doula of Color training. Stevie holds various positions in the community and in academia, including holding the Gender Equity Seat for the American Anthropological Association Members Programmatic Advisory and Advocacy Committee.

Announcing the First Food Equity Project

Diversifying the breastfeeding lactation support workforce will reduce breastfeeding disparities among BIPOC communities.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE // July 30, 2021

Chicago, Illinois — Through $1.2 million from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, HealthConnect One will increase access to community-based peer-to-peer breastfeeding support, critical to increasing breastfeeding rates and driving down infant mortality rates in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities.

Breastfeeding is critical to young children’s health. Yet, years of disinvestment and systemic racism within the health care system created an untenable situation for low-income Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened this inequity as our health care systems are being pushed to the brink. HealthConnect One continues to put communities in touch with their own strengths and skills to augment years of systemic racism and neglect through collaboration, shared learning, and ongoing support for community-led work.   

The First Food Equity Project aims to improve the initiation and duration of breastfeeding rates among low-income communities by expanding community-based, peer-to-peer support models that diversify both the maternal and child health workforces rooted in these communities. 

“For new parents and babies, nothing compares to having lactation support that is from your community and shares your cultural background. W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s generous grant for our First Food Equity project provides us with the outstanding opportunity to grow the community-rooted lactation support in communities across the nation where the need is the greatest,” said Dr. Twylla Dillion, executive director of HealthConnect One. “For the communities we are working with, the option to work with someone with shared lived experience can be life-changing.”

  • Increase breastfeeding intention, initiation, and duration to improve mother and baby immunity and overall health.
  • Utilize the First Food Equity project to increase breastfeeding support by diverse, community-based peer-to-peer providers, resulting in increased breastfeeding rates.
  • Provide financial assistance and technical support for 15+ community-led initiatives and projects focused on increasing breastfeeding intention, initiation, and duration at six weeks.

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Media Contact: Zainab Sulaiman, HealthConnect One Director of Communications & Advocacy
Tel: (202)440-1576 Email: zsulaiman@healthconnectone.org

We’re Hiring for two Coordinator Positions

Our team is growing and we are hiring for two new positions! We are seeking individuals with passion/and or experience working on birth/reproductive justice or issues related to racial justice or other complex issues in a social justice context.

Business Development Coordinator

Position: Trainer/Business Development Coordinator
Reports To: Director of Business Development and Expansion
Category: Entry Level
Salary Range: $43,000 – $50,000

About the Role:  The HealthConnect One, (HC One) Trainer/Business Development Coordinator will work with the HC One program staff and leadership to coordinate resources, develop training materials, facilitate the breastfeeding peer counselor and community-based doula training. Assist in planning, outreach, and implementation to ensure set program direction that meets HC One’s vision.

Learning Management System Coordinator

Position: Trainer/Learning Management System Coordinator
Reports To: Director of Training and Curriculum
Category: Entry Level
Salary Range: $43,000 – $50,000

About the Role:  The HealthConnect One, (HC One) Trainer/LMS Coordinator will work with the HC One program staff and leadership to coordinate resources, develop training materials, facilitate the breastfeeding peer counselor and community-based doula training. Assist in planning, outreach, and implementation to ensure set program direction that meets HC One’s vision.

Interested in one of our job openings and joining the HC One team? Submit all of the required documents stated in the job description to jobs@healthconnectone.org listed. Please include the position title in the subject line. Applications are accepted until the stated application deadline, or until the position has been filled.

Check out our job openings page for more details!

Birthing Hope Virtual Fundraiser

We raised $20,000+ for birthing families!

During our Birthing Hope Virtual Fundraiser on June 24th, our network of families, advocates, and birthworkers displayed their commitment to birthing hope for Black, Brown, and Indigenous families through support of culturally-reflective doulas, breastfeeding peer counselors, and community health workers.

We are so grateful for all of our sponsors, donors, and supporters who made our virtual fundraiser, Birthing Hope, a huge success!

As new lives are full of hope, so is the promise of the culturally reflective support, knowledge and guidance that HealthConnect programs bring to birthing families. Through all of your support, we can provide sustainable and crucial technical support, training, and advocacy for culturally reflective birthing support for Black, brown, and indigenous mamas, babies, and birthing families.

We presented the Irving Harris Advocacy Award to Dr. Jamila Taylor, Director of Health Care Reform at The Century Foundation.

As we do each year, we hosted the Senator Richard Durbin Community Health Worker Award presented virtually by Senator Durbin to a fantastic community health worker, April Thompson, Community Engagement Coordinator from EverThrive Illinois.

To birth hope is to birth with love, compassion, empathy, affirmation, support and an opportunity to heal.

Brenda Reyes

HealthConnect One is committed to making sure that as doula reimbursement expands, there are community-based, culturally reflective doulas available to the communities who need them most and through the generous donations of our supporters we can continue to develop these programs.

Missed the event? You can rewatch our virtual fundraiser and donate to our work.

COVID-19 Vaccines & Pregnancy/Lactation

COVID-19 continues to affect Black, brown and indigenous people disproportionately. Mistrust of the medical system, misinformation about the virus, and poor COVID-19 management, make it unsurprising that our communities have less trust in the vaccine. 

The only way to fight this virus and save our communities is by providing pregnant people and parenting families with the information they need to stay safe and make an informed decision about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

COVID-19 Vaccines & Pregnancy/Lactation

Pregnant and lactating people can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. A conversation with your healthcare provider may assist you in making your decision but is not required to obtain the vaccine.

You can speak with your healthcare provider to help you decide whether to receive a vaccine.
Note: a conversation with your healthcare provider may be helpful, but it is not required before vaccination.

Getting vaccinated prevents severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. Unvaccinated people should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated. With the Delta variant, this is more urgent than ever. The Center for Disease Control & Prevention has updated guidance for fully vaccinated people based on new evidence on the Delta variant.

Reports have shown that lactating people who have received COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have antibodies in their breastmilk, which could help protect their babies.

Preliminary data indicate that COVID-19 vaccines don’t increase the risk of pregnancy-related adverse outcomes. For more information, please read this article in the New England Journal of Medicine and visit the Health Feedback website.

Share this information with the pregnant, lactating, and parenting families you love, work with, and serve. It might save a life!

Resources on COVID-19 Vaccines & Pregnancy/Lactation

COVID Collaborative: Get COVID Answers: Questions & Answers About COVID-19 Vaccines | The Ad Council (getvaccineanswers.org)

Vaccine Factsheets: Vaccines: COVID-19

Visit the Birthing People Bill of Rights for details on how to support birthing people during the COVID-19 pandemic.