Human milk is a vital part of health for babies, and lactation plays a vital role in health for their parents. Breastfeeding rates in the US are low, especially in nondominant communities, and we have a long way to go to reach the 2020 goals set forth by the World Health Organization. Women of Color have the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration, disproportionately low compared to other ethnicities. This is due to myriad factors, such as a lack of representation in the lactation support field, lack of access to qualified lactation support, cultural barriers and a lack of generational experience. Lower income families also lack access to many avenues of lactation support, and low income families of color are at the greatest risk for disparities in health outcomes, compounded by a lack of equitable and accessible lactation support.
Other campaigns focus on telling families that they should breastfeed and why breastfeeding is important. Yet, these efforts are largely ineffective. This is because breastfeeding can be very difficult without evidence-based information and early and appropriate support. Most parents do want to breastfeed, we know this because most women initiate breastfeeding in the hospital. Unfortunately, Women of Color are more than twice as likely to receive NO lactation support immediately postpartum and to be offered formula in the first two days postpartum. Low breastfeeding rates in the Black community for multiple generations has led to a lack of generational support, meaning most new mothers don’t know anyone in their family who breastfed to reach out to for support. When a new parent is trying to nurse their baby, they need the tools and resources to make breastfeeding work.
Parents need lactation support in their neighborhoods and at their fingertips. Making quality peer-to-peer lactation support available, accessible, and equitable can vastly improve outcomes. Often this is all the support a parent needs to understand how lactation works, what to expect, and how to navigate common challenges. In order to make lactation support more equitable, increased representation is needed. In order to make lactation support more accessible, cultivating digital spaces which meet parents’ immediate needs is vital, and equipping passionate individuals with the support to reach their professional goals and in turn build up their local communities with new tools and resources is what makes this change sustainable. That is our mission at Milky Mommas.
Our strategy for this vision is the Lactation Education and Development (LEAD) Program, a community outreach program that focuses on providing training as a lactation peer counselor, scholarships for lactation education and certification, and a year-long professional skills development commitment within the Milky Mommas team to members of nondominant culture groups such as people of color, who may also be low income, resulting in the development of a cohort of lactation counselor-educators equipped to bring these skills back into their own neighborhoods.
This January, Milky Mommas launched the LEAD Pilot Program with funding provided by FCLP, Facebook Community Leadership Program which is “an initiative designed to support the leaders who are innovating ways to better support their communities through Facebook.” Throughout 2019, Milky Mommas worked with trainees in two sessions which was delivered through a 12 week Peer Counseling Training Matrix. After completion of the Training Matrix, PC Trainees / LEAD Candidates are working through a 90 day skill building period matched with a Mentor. In September, 11 LEAD candidates were selected to begin professional lactation training through CAPPA to become Certified Lactation Educators and LER to become Certified Breastfeeding Specialists. Milky Mommas will continue to offer wraparound support throughout their educational endeavors to optimize their success towards professional lactation training. We look forward to updating everyone as the LEAD Scholars progress as lactation peer counselors and lactation professionals within their own local communities and in the Milky Mommas virtual community.