Board proclaims World Breastfeeding and Black Breastfeeding weeks,

August 4, 2023

Board proclaims World Breastfeeding and Black Breastfeeding weeks, highlighting benefits and disparities for parents and their babies

The Board of County Commissioners proclaimed Aug. 1 to 7, 2023, as World Breastfeeding Week in Multnomah County. This year’s proclamation for World Breastfeeding Week, passed during the Thursday, Aug. 3 board meeting, is intended to celebrate, support and promote awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding/chestfeeding.

Sabrina Villemenay, a manager for the County’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, a special supplemental and nutrition program for women, infants and children, was the first presenter. The WIC program supports income-eligible households with pregnant women, postpartum women, and/or infants and children as old as five. Clients receive access to nutrition education classes, breastfeeding/chestfeeding promotion and support, breast pumps, monthly benefits for certain healthy foods and referrals to other support programs.

Villemenay read the proclamation to the Board, speaking to how important it is to inform the community of the physical and mental benefits of breastfeeding/chestfeeding for both babies and mothers, as well as the need to reduce racial disparities in healthcare and birth outcomes.

The Board also honored Black Breastfeeding Week, which is celebrated annually in the fourth week of August. Representatives of WIC, as well as the County’s Racial and Ethnic approaches to Community Health (REACH) program, shared highlights of the County’s work to support breastfeeding/chestfeeding.

The County’s REACH program collaborates with other local programs to address chronic disease burden and disparities, particularly among Black/African immigrant and refugee infants, youth, adults and elders. The program implements and promotes three main strategies: physical activity, links between the community and clinical services, and nutrition, including breastfeeding/chestfeeding.

Mikayla Hill, a REACH nutrition health promotion specialist, presented data to the Board showing Black mothers initiate breastfeeding at a rate of 92% of white mothers. After eight weeks, only 55% of Black and African mothers who breastfeed exclusively continue to do so, compared to 70% of white mothers.

“Because of our partnership with WIC and the County’s Healthy Birth Initiative, we learned there are no Black providers providing lactation support,” Hill said. “The focus of our breastfeeding strategy is to increase continuity of care and community support among the REACH population.”

Hill explained that in the past year, the REACH team worked on 19 new and improved lactation sites, reached 32,000 residents, trained and certified 24 Black lactation counselors, and partnered with five health system partners. WIC and REACH also hosted a photoshoot to promote breastfeeding/chestfeeding, and worked with the Portland International Airport to design a campaign to normalize breastfeeding/chestfeeding.

Hill also shared the work of REACH and African American Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon (AABCO) to create a lactation space at the Rockwood Market Hall in partnership with the City of Gresham, allowing “nursing parents to have the privacy and calm to nurse while out in the community.”

Hill praised the effort to place mobile breastfeeding/chestfeeding tents in a public space. The large pink pop-up tents included rocking chairs and served as a safe space for changing diapers, breastfeeding/chestfeeding, pumping or even just resting.

“The lactation station was born out of the desire to provide moms with the option to feed their children in a comfortable space — not a bathroom, hot car or uncomfortably dealing with public stares,” said Hill.

Cherish Wanter, a WIC nutrition program specialist for Black, African American and Native American communities, explained that WIC’s breastfeeding/chestfeeding counselors provide one-on-one support through texting or phone conversations, as well as classes for moms to bond and build community with each other.

This year, the County WIC program partnered with the State of Oregon’s WIC program to expand outreach to cultural groups across the state to reach families in areas that do not necessarily have culturally specific programs in place. Multnomah County’s WIC program was also recently awarded the “gold award” — the highest recognition possible — by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Breastfeeding Award of Excellence Program.

Villemenay introduced two speakers who participated in a breastfeeding/chestfeeding virtual town hall co-hosted by REACH and WIC. This year’s theme was the impact of gestational diabetes on maternal health and breastfeeding.

Dr. Danaya Hall, a women’s health nurse practitioner and one of the founders of the Alliance of Black Nurses Association of Oregon, said that her goal was to both address what patients with the diagnosis can do, and what providers and leaders in healthcare can do to dismantle the inequities that are barriers to health and breastfeeding/chestfeeding.

“It is exciting for me to be a part of this (townhall) because it really speaks to my commitment to the Black community in particular, but also communities that are experiencing systemic racism and inequities in healthcare, especially maternity care,” said Hall. “Breastfeeding/chestfeeding is really the foundation for that and I am excited to continue this work of representing our community.”

The other town hall speaker was Dr. Dave Griffin, a foot doctor who noted that his participation in a presentation about breastfeeding/chestfeeding seemed unlikely. Griffin explained that breastfeeding is connected to feet through a mother’s movement.

“For moms to be healthy in pregnancy and postpartum, they need to keep moving, and if they don’t, they gain weight,” said Griffin. “We have an obesity problem in our world that continues to escalate in all of our generations. If you can get mothers moving, they will create more successful healthcare for themselves and model for their kids as they grow up.”

Commissioners shared their gratitude for the speakers and programs, which have been working diligently to highlight the physical and mental benefits of breastfeeding/chestfeeding.

Chair Jessica Vega Pederson thanked the REACH and WIC teams for their partnership in bringing education and economic support forward to assist families in making informed choices for their health and wellness.

“As a mom, aunt and friend, I know how critical those first few months of a baby’s life are to long-term health and wellness — not just for the baby, but for the entire family system,” said Vega Pederson. “At Multnomah County, we believe it’s critical that every parent is able to make the choice to feed their baby in the manner that they want to, including breast or chestfeeding.”

“The proclamation today is about celebration, promotion and support for Black breastfeeding,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran, “not only the physical health of babies and setting them up for better nutrition success, but the mental health of the moms as well.”

Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards thanked the speakers for creating the infrastructure for mothers, especially Black mothers, to breastfeed.

“As a mother of three, it was a while ago, but there are many factors that conspire against mothers who know it is healthier for their child to be able to breastfeed. But the built environment, our policies and our practices make it exceedingly difficult. I really appreciate the intentionality of what is needed to help allow mothers to be successful in breastfeeding.” 

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