Celebrating AAPI Month

Centering AAPI Voices in Breastfeeding Advocacy

As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI), HealthConnect One is highlighting the impactful work of To-wen Tseng, who has dedicated her career to centering AAPI voices in her breastfeeding advocacy. To-wen is a mother, journalist, author, and activist. She has been a key voice for the AAPI community in the breastfeeding world, serving as a long-time Volunteer Blogger at San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition, and more recently, an Elected Director on the United States Breastfeeding Committee. She co-founded the API Breastfeeding Task Force in 2017 and then Asian American Native Hawaiian and Asian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Breastfeeding Week in 2021.  

In collaboration with HealthConnect One’s First Food Equity Project, To-wen and her team led a Baby Cafè at DeDe Diner. Their mission was to combat stigma, decrease inequities and normalize breast/chestfeeding in Los Angeles County’s Asian and Pacific Islander communities by improving education and support practices. To-wen shares that the “social stigma, coupled with lack of resources, have hindered Asian parents’ ability to successfully breastfeed. Data shows nearly 50% of Asian Americans in San Gabriel Valley, the home to the largest Asian population in Los Angeles County, are limited English proficient, and less than 6% of lactation professionals in Los Angeles County speak an Asian language. Additionally, prenatal medical visits offer little breastfeeding education using language or culture-appropriate materials.” It is important to recognize the unique cultural and linguistic needs of AAPI families, which their Baby Cafè hoped to do. To-wen shares that they simply could not have an “API Baby Cafè,” because API is a very diverse population. They decided to center the most under-served group and with their community partner, BreastfeedLA , chose the Filipino population. Dede means breastfeeding in Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines. 

To-wen wants to remind people that while we tend to group all the AANHPI people together, “it is actually a very diverse, or I might as well say very divided, group. A record 22 million API Americans trace their roots to more than East and Southeast Asian countries and the Indian subcontinent, each with unique histories, cultures, languages and other characteristics. In many cases, they disagree with one another. In some extreme cases, they even hate one another. Please keep that in mind and don’t assume things when you work with API families.”  

12 Organizations Supporting & Celebrating Black Moms Breastfeeding

In celebration of Black Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 25 through Aug. 31), we compiled a list of organizations and online groups that provide breastfeeding support for moms. If you’re an expectant mom who wants to learn more about lactation or you’ve already delivered your baby, it’s important for you to get the support you need to breastfeed successfully.

There are many health benefits for breastfeeding moms and their babies including antibodies found in breast milk. These antibodies help babies fight off bacteria/viruses and lowers the risk of asthma, allergies, and respiratory illnesses. Breastfeeding moms also lower their chances of breast cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Recently, data on breastfeeding children indicated that “83% of U.S. mothers breastfed their babies at birth. However, when the research was broken down by race 85% of white mothers breastfed more than Black mothers who only breastfed 69%.”

This disparity is attributed to systematic racism within hospital networks who don’t encourage breastfeeding initiation to Black moms and often promote formula. The other obstacle moms face is dealing with the possible stigma of being shamed in public for breastfeeding their child. These things can impact a mom’s breastfeeding confidence and discourage her to breastfeed.

We honor and support organizations and online groups who are working hard to show off Black families representing breastfeeding. We support them in their efforts to promote and protect Black families and their desire to provide only the best for Black families.

Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association

Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE)

African American Breastfeeding Network

Black Breastfeeding Week

BirthMatters Spartanburg

United States Breastfeeding Committee

National Association of Professional Peer Lactation Counselors

MoDaBa (Fatima Muhammad Roque)

Early Dawn Birthing Services (Chelesa Presley)

Blooming Moon Midwifery Services (Toni Hill)   

Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project (Natasha Enos)

Southern Birth Justice

(Photo credit: Flint Chaney 08)

women gathered in a conference room in front of large screen at training

HC One Trains Emerging Birth Workers In Milwaukee, WI

During this pandemic, HealthConnect One (HC One) continues to provide training and consulting to organizations across the country. The rise in COVID-19 cases makes community-based doulas, even more, important in supporting moms and babies especially “pregnant Latina and Black women who are infected at significantly higher rates than white women.”  Data shows that community-based doulas (CBD) are an important part of ensuring positive birth and lactation outcomes in vulnerable communities.

Recently, HealthConnect One did a virtual doula training for the city of Milwaukee Health Department’s Birth Outcomes Made Better Doula Program. It was led by Wandy Hernandez-Gordon, who is a DONA certified birth doula, and Brenda Reyes, lead on peer lactation services. At this time, community-based doulas need to be supported to be safe and effective in their communities. HC One trainers provide participants with the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, the long-term impact on Black and Brown communities, and resources they’re able to use through telehealth services.

In HC One’s Virtual Doula Training, participants learned the fundamentals of becoming a DONA private birth doula. They also learned about HC One’s Community-Based Doula Program that is the only home visiting program with a commitment to support birthing families prenatally, during labor and postpartum. The peer-to-peer relationship and the continuity of care creates a close-knit fabric of support around the family, which has a broad and deep impact on a variety of outcomes.

The training included an important breastfeeding educational component. “Breastfeeding provides tremendous health and mental benefit for the mother, baby, parents, and community. The trainer reviewed the recent recommendation from the World Health Organization focused on COVID-19 and lactation. “It’s important to continue supporting, protecting, and promoting breastfeeding, said Brenda Reyes. “The communities we work with can identify for themselves how they protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.”

As a result of this virtual doula training, the participants will be able to support and educate birthing families in pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. This will help and improve birth outcomes in their communities because they are educating individuals early in the process.

HealthConnect One’s birth equity work continues to be more important than ever because during this pandemic racial health disparities are even more prevalent. “Due to the pandemic, discrimination continues to impact Black and Latinx communities,” said Wandy Hernandez-Gordon. “During this time, HC One is able to advocate, educate and lend our virtual platforms to do trainings, offer free webinars and provide a platform for community health workers to share information, experiences, and seek support, during this critical time.”

Is your organization interested in a virtual doula training? Contact us at info@healthconnectone.org 

lessons from the field funding strategy

Building for Birth Equity: Lessons from the Field

HealthConnect One (HC One) launched the Birth Equity Leadership Academy (BELA) in the spring of 2017, to develop effective and authentic leadership on maternal and child health within communities that are often marginalized, and to amplify the voices of these leaders through a coordinated national network.

BELA is the first national network focused on birth equity.

After approximately 18 months of implementation, we have identified six key lessons learned:

  1. Community and connection break the isolation of individual birth workers
  2. Modeling, support and mentorship impact how individuals work with families and community
  3. Seed grants paired with mentorship launch innovative, expansive ideas
  4. Developing leadership in communities means supporting both professional and personal growth
  5. Focusing on equity requires a significant time investment
  6. Time, capacity and process are crucial elements of success

For details, please download the full brief here:


A vital part of BELA is the community projects initiative, which provides mini grants and technical support in order to increase capacity for serving vulnerable and marginalized communities around maternal and child health.

HealthConnect One is currently supporting community demonstration projects from BELA leaders across the country in the form of $80,000 in mini grants. The overarching goals of these mini grants are to foster collaboration, share learning, and support new or current work in underserved communities and communities of color.

For a summary of lessons learned in launching this mini grant funding strategy, please download the full brief here:


Pure CHW Awesomeness in South Carolina

by Amber Pendergraph, Community-Based Doula with BirthMatters

Talk about Pure Awesomeness!

I recently had the honor of being grandfathered into a Community Health Worker (CHW) course. The course was followed by a certification exam to become a certified community health worker for South Carolina! The training I attended was facilitated by Julie Smithwick. I thoroughly enjoyed her teaching style and strategies.

A CHW is a frontline public health worker who is a trusted member of and/or has an unusually close understanding of the community in which they serve. A CHW works directly with a member of the community as a liaison. They work to improve patient outcomes, increase access to healthcare, and address social determinants by bridging the gap between healthcare organizations and their communities to combat the ethnic and racial disparities in healthcare.

I am very passionate about the work that I do within my community. I have been in my career as a Community-Based Doula with BirthMatters for 8+ years. BirthMatters replicates the HealthConnect One model. This model is so amazing because you meet the individuals where they are. This community-based model that I follow as a doula believes we, the community members, have the solutions to these complex health disparities. It is very empowering.

Although I have been working within my community for many years, I had a lot of takeaways from the training. I learned so much and I am sure I will utilize the information to enhance my skills as a Community-Based Doula. There were two things that really spoke to me from this training:

  • First was the importance of cultural competence, which means to be respectful and responsive to all health beliefs and practices. This was a part of the HealthConnect One training and it’s nice to revisit this essential component.
  • The second is the need for health equity, which means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be healthier!

Because of this course, in my role as a community health worker doula, I will strive to practice these core competencies. I will work with my community to remove obstacles such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to good jobs and fair pay. I now feel more than ever that I am equipped to help members of my community by sharing resources and connecting with other organizations within the community I serve.

ROBE: Teaching Fathers To Support Breastfeeding In Their Families


Thank you to Wesley Bugg, for taking the time this Father’s Day to share about the organization he founded, called Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere (ROBE).

What is the goal of ROBE?

The goal of Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere is to provide men with culturally appropriate information and resources that allow them to more fully understand the dilemma of breastfeeding and birth disparities in order to impact maternal and infant mortality—especially in minority communities where the disparities are more prominent. It is a well-known that communities of color have been historically resource deprived when it comes to engagement in the process of eliminating disparities. We intend to alleviate misinformation in these communities so that fathers, brothers, uncles, mentors, pastors and community leaders have culturally competent language to understand and share the importance of breastfeeding and birth equity and are able to communicate this information and knowledge to others in the community.

How does supporting dads improve birth equity?

ROBE’s support of fathers is to educate, equip and empower men to impact the increase of breastfeeding initiation and duration and decrease maternal and infant morbidity and mortality in disproportionately disenfranchised communities. Knowledge is power, power not to be held on to but to be shared. Men can bring significant relief from anxiety to a woman’s birth experience. Creating positive, culturally based opportunities for fathers to be involved with birth process allows them to be heard and provides for less family stress. Our equation is Stress= Demand – Resources.

How does the funding from HealthConnect One’s Birth Equity Leadership Academy (BELA) help you reach project goals?

Funding from HealthConnect One has been a game changer. This funding has allowed us to become visible in the community to get our message out. We have participated in male oriented projects in Louisiana, Oklahoma, California, Colorado, Ohio and Georgia.


Wesley Bugg, is a BELA Leader and he serves ROSE as their Financial and Legal Operations Coordinator.

Interview with Esperanza Dodge, Durbin CHW Awardee & Operations Director of Young Women United

Birth Work in New Mexico

Sometimes, we don’t know all the birth options that are available to us and even if we do, they aren’t always accessible. It’s pretty cool that here In New Mexico, Medicaid covers home births and freestanding birth center births with a licensed midwife. It’s such a great option for many seeking a respectful perinatal care.

Many who hear about this after giving birth wish they knew of it sooner so they could have received that type of care. While I did know about home births when pregnant, I really wish I knew I could give birth at a freestanding birth center as this option really appeals to me as a single mom. . It could have meant so much to have prenatal, labor and postpartum care where I wasn’t rushed, but was listened to and my body and birth experience was treated respectfully. Pregnant women and people need a trusted relationship with their provider, not just the provider on shift at a hospital while you’re in labor. It makes a big difference when women and people of color can access birth workers that look like us. Our birth outcomes are better for it too.

Through my work at Young Women United (YWU), I helped launch the New Mexico Doula Association alongside other New Mexico-based BELA leaders to support doulas in New Mexico, advocate to make doula work sustainable and increase the number of women and people of color birth workers, especially in rural areas. My desire is to advocate for doulas and midwives because their jobs are so important in supporting the pregnant person and babies. It’s challenging for doulas to both have the time and energy to do birth work, but also spend their time doing birth equity work. As a non-doula, I hope I can be part of making their work a little easier and accessible to families most in need of this service. YWU is also conducting a research project that looks at the birth experiences of low income families of color who have accessed licensed midwifery care in the state of New Mexico and I’ve really enjoyed being a researcher on this project.

Addiction and Pregnancy

The project I’m most proud to have worked on over the past year is a unique curriculum I and YWU created alongside women with lived experience around addiction and pregnancy. This curriculum is a training for doulas and birth companions to work with women and people with substance use disorders during their labor. The training is informed by women with lived experience of addiction and pregnancy. Topics covered are unlike any I’ve ever experienced in the birth workers community. Even I learned so much from the women and find the information valuable and essential for our communities struggling with addiction who also deserve compassionate care. We’ve taught this training 4 times and every time, it has made a meaningful impact on the doulas and birth companions who will be proving their services to community who needs it the most. It makes me so happy to know women and people are closer to receiving the care they deserve. It is part of a larger movement we (YWU) has done to create a culture shift around addiction and pregnancy/motherhood alongside those most impacted.

Birth Equity Leadership Academy

I didn’t know I was a community health worker (CHW) until I attended the orientation for the Birth Equity Leadership Academy (BELA). One of the facilitators described it as improving the overall health of a

Birth Equity Leadership Academy Training at photo credit: Judy Fidkowski

community. It made me realize I’ve been doing this work for a long time in various communities. Being part of BELA has also given me the opportunity to host a webinar for my fellow BELA colleagues on making your money work for you, because as birth workers and advocates, finances are crucial to sustaining our work and our lives.. As a single mom I learned that taking control of my finances was essential for my family’s well-being and allows me to parent in ways I find meaningful.

The other part of BELA that I love is the regional meetings because they are rich in learning opportunities and allow me to connect with others doing incredible work around the US and Puerto Rico. It’s a great gathering where people share their birth work experiences, challenges, support and common goals. For me, it’s important that everyone is valued for their expertise in whatever piece of the work they are doing to make an impact. There are so many BELA leaders that are doing amazing work to address maternal mortality and other birth equity issues in their respective communities. I’m moved by the work BELA leaders and faculty are doing to provide grassroots level solutions and that gives me hope.

Advocacy: Ban-the-Box Legislation

Through the policy work I’ve done at my organization, I’ve been able to collaborate on and successfully pass Ban-the-Box legislation in New Mexico. It was important for me to work on this issue because it has a direct impact on the lives of women and families. Prior to this legislation, those who were previously incarcerated had to check a box on applications asking if they have any felonies or convictions, which could greatly diminish their chance at employment. This legislation removes that question. I accredit the hard work of the mothers and fathers we worked closely with who were previously incarcerated. For 5 years we lobbied our state legislators by having real conversations about what it means to seek employment with a record. They just want to find successful employment, give back to society and provide for their loved ones. Ban-the-Box brings them one step closer to this. It’s been a beautiful victory I’m proud to have finally won this year.

This Fall: Feature Film Debut on Addiction and Pregnancy

I am so blessed to be able to do the work I do, especially at a reproductive justice organization led by women of

Photo credit via Las Cruces Newspaper

color. Sometimes I’m in disbelief about the opportunities I’m given to make gigantic things happen across New Mexico, and beyond. One of the most incredible projects I got to work on is the feature film that we at Young Women United (YWU) produced that centers the complexities of addiction and motherhood. The creation of the film was created by women with lived experiences of addiction and pregnancy/motherhood. Their expertise was so valuable in shaping the film from its inception to actual production. We worked closely with professional cast and crew to bring the film to life. I’m so excited to see the movie debut this Fall. We are on our way to creating a huge culture shift in the way people view addiction and motherhood, which can have real impacts on people’s lives.


Esperanza Dodge is HC One’s 2019 Durbin Community Health Worker of the Year Recipient

Moms and babies in Michigan receive the gold-standard of care through Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association’s community-based doula program ~ via SF Bay View

Read – Moms and babies in Michigan receive the gold-standard of care through Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association’s community-based doula program

“Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) in Detroit, Mich., has successfully received national accreditation through HealthConnect One’s (HC One) Community-Based Doula Accreditation Program. BMBFA underwent a rigorous process in which the HealthConnect One Accreditation Team reviewed the organization’s existing Community-Based Doula Program to ensure high-quality implementation.

“Community-based doulas play an important role in helping decrease maternal and infant mortality rates and increase breastfeeding rates. These women are trained to provide peer support to other women in their communities throughout pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting.

“BMBFA’s accreditation from HealthConnect One comes at a time when maternal and infant mortality is skyrocketing in the African-American community due to racial disparities in the healthcare system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the risk of pregnancy-related deaths for black women is three to four times higher than those of white women.” This is impacting the health of African-American women at an alarming rate, causing a maternal health epidemic. The accreditation means that BMBFA is providing Detroit mothers with the highest quality care.”

by Kiddada Green, published by the San Francisco Bay View, a National Black Newspaper, on May 16, 2019

On Working for Breastfeeding Equity

Interview with Joia Crear-Perry, MD

We caught up with Dr. Crear-Perry over email to learn about her work with the National Birth Equity Collaborative and how she came to be such a strong advocate for moms. Here is what she shared:

What is your name? How many children do you have and what are their ages?
I am Joia Crear Perry, and I have 3 Children – 22, 19 and 5. I am the full reproductive spectrum 🙂

When did you begin your work to support breastfeeding?

I am an OB/Gyn. When I trained, they taught us nothing about breastfeeding and how to support women to ensure that they are able to breastfeed. When I went into private practice, I began attending seminars and trainings on how to encourage and support breastfeeding as a physician and member of the community.

You help so many families. Can you share a little about the help you provide?

Having worked in private practice, in public health and inside of managed care companies, we often see that the needs of poor women and women of Color are not adequately met. Having a Doula support the birth and breastfeeding of our babies can be reserved for those who are more well resourced. We are currently working to ensure Doulas are covered on Medicaid and insurance plans so that this disparity does not continue. These systemic shifts in resources are critical to us reaching any equity.

How does inequality show up in the work you do with families?

Our Vision at the National Birth Equity Collaborative is that every African American infant will celebrate a healthy first birthday. The fact that black babies die at two to three times the rate of white babies is inexcusable. It is the canary in the coal mine of our times. The coalminers used to bring caged canaries into the mines with them. If the canaries became sick or died, this was a sign that something was seriously amiss and that miners needed to get out. We need to make the U.S. not be a coal mine for black babies. The structural inequities that contribute to this must end.

Do you remember a time when a family you were working with was treated unfairly?

Speaking with large health systems and insurers about the importance of breastfeeding for communities of Color, we are often met with the statement, “They just don’t want to do it.” We are able to show data that Black women have high intention rates to breastfeed but significant work and structural barriers that they can address to improve those rates.

Birth work is often challenging, especially when we are faced daily with racism or other bias. Where do you find support?

I have found my tribe. I have a community of fellow OB/Gyn’s, midwives, doulas, reproductive justice activists who fight with and for each other. We know this is a battle for justice that has been going on for generations and that together, we are continuing to push forward towards equity.

What does this support look like?

Anything from phone calls to 3 day spa retreats. ( Need more of those 🙂 )

What advice would you give to other birth workers who face racism, bias and inequity?

Make sure you find your tribe. We cannot do this alone.

What is one thing the person reading this can do to support equity in birth and breastfeeding?

Make sure any person you know is supported when they are pregnant, giving birth and breastfeeding. Ask them if they have someone to go to their appointments and hospital with them. Be a safety net for them. What we all need to have a safe, healthy baby is to be valued and supported.

Anything else you want to share?

We are living in a very exciting time. Equity and justice are parts of daily conversations in the United States today. The impact of structural, institutional, interpersonal and internalized racism on our health over the lifespan must be ameliorated.

Dr. Joia Crear-Perry is the Founder and CEO of the National Birth Equity Collaborative. Previously, she served as the Executive Director of the Birthing Project, Director of Women’s and Children’s Services at Jefferson Community Healthcare Center and as the Director of Clinical Services for the City of New Orleans Health Department.

After receiving her bachelor’s trainings at Princeton University and Xavier University, Dr. Crear-Perry completed her medical degree at Louisiana State University and her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tulane University’s School of Medicine. She was also recognized as a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dr. Crear-Perry currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Community Catalyst, National Medical Association, and the New Orleans African American Museum. She is married to Dr. Andre Perry and has three children: Jade, Carlos, and Robeson.

Her love is her family; health equity is her passion; maternal and child health are her callings.

We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today with two guest posts on “Birth Work for Equality.” Thank you to Dr. Joia and to Stacy Davis for sharing your work and your passion.