With the world in the midst of a global pandemic, it is a good time to recognize the important role breastfeeding plays in protecting babies from germs all across the planet. The Polk-Norman-Mahnomen Community Health Services (PNM CHS) WIC Program and SHIP are celebrating Minnesota Breastfeeding Awareness Month throughout August. The theme for World Breastfeeding Week, Aug. 1-7, is “Support breastfeeding for healthier families, healthier communities, healthier planet.” The theme for Black Breastfeeding Week, Aug. 25-31, is “Revive, Restore, Reclaim.”
As the world’s leading scientists race to find a COVID-19 vaccine, humans have their own, natural way of protecting the next generation. Moms, through breast milk, pass on helpful antibodies that fight germs.
Though it is too early to know for sure, researchers are finding evidence that moms who previously had COVID-19 may pass on helpful antibodies that can fight the virus. Parents may worry about the safety of breastfeeding during the pandemic. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding. The benefits simply outweigh the potential risk of spreading the virus to the baby. In addition, researchers have not found the infectious virus in breastmilk. Even when a mother has COVID-19, she is advised to still breastfeed while doing hand hygiene and wearing a mask when with the baby.
This year’s worldwide breastfeeding week also emphasizes how “green” and climate-friendly breastfeeding is. Human milk is a natural, renewable food produced and delivered to babies without pollution, packaging, or waste.
Finally, promoting and removing barriers to breastfeeding for people of color is one way to address structural racism in Minnesota. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black, people of color, and American Indians in Minnesota due to underlying social, economic, and health disparities. These same underlying factors have made it more difficult over the years for Minnesotans of color to breastfeed.
Supporting breastfeeding through culturally appropriate care increases initiation and duration rates across all racial and cultural groups. Growing numbers of health care, employers, and health departments are working to address the barriers and make breastfeeding easier for new mothers. P-N-M CHB SHIP has been working with area employers to promote the importance of supporting breastfeeding moms at their place of employment as well as providing and promoting Rock and Rest tents at area fairs and community events for all families. The Polk County Breastfeeding Coalition has introduced to many businesses the “Anytime, Anywhere Initiative”, sharing about the Minnesota law that protects all breastfeeding women to breastfeed in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are allowed to be. Supporting businesses have hung a “Breastfeeding Welcome Here” window cling along with signing a pledge in support.
The P-N-M CHB WIC program along with Polk County Public Health supports breastfeeding by offering Breastfeeding Peer Counselors to all pregnant and breastfeeding WIC clients. Breastfeeding Peer counselors are women who have successfully breastfed, and trained to help WIC participants with common breastfeeding issues and support. Breastfeeding support is also offered with “Mama’s Milk Connection” a monthly breastfeeding support group that is provided to all pregnant and breastfeeding women, offering a sense of community to share personal experiences, challenges, and successes. Meetings are usually held the third Thursday of the month, 6:00-7:00 p.m., and are currently offered virtually via zoom.
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative has reduced racial disparities in breastfeeding rates. The Minnesota Department of Health recognizes maternity centers that have taken steps toward implementing breastfeeding-friendly practices through the Minnesota Breastfeeding Friendly Maternity Center Designation Program.
“The pandemic has illuminated the many ways health is interconnected,” said Tammy Conn, Lactation Consultant for Polk County Public Health. “Given all we face in 2020, let’s not forget to promote breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is one of these pathways to health, right at the start of life, with far-reaching benefits for families, communities, and the planet.”
For more information, on breastfeeding, P-N-M CHB WIC services, Polk County Breastfeeding Coalition, Mama’s Milk Connection, or worksite lactation services, contact Polk County Public Health at 218-281-3385 or Norman-Mahnomen Public Health at 218-784-5425.