Celebrated annually since 2011, National Breastfeeding Month is an opportunity to recognize and promote an evidence-based practice that supports thriving families, functions as a proven primary prevention strategy, and provides a safe, reliable, and renewable food source for babies. The last week of the month is Black Breastfeeding Week, an acknowledgment of the persistent racial disparities that have limited opportunities for some families to realize their lactation goals.
For the past four years, CHI has facilitated Advancing Breastfeeding in Colorado (ABC), a regional public health initiative funded by the state’s Cancer, Cardiovascular and Chronic Pulmonary Disease Grants Program. ABC’s work, which has happened primarily during a global pandemic, reminds us of the expansive breadth of public health efforts. National Breastfeeding Month is a chance for us to acknowledge the importance and relevance of this work and share some of our accomplishments to date.
Growing Breastfeeding Resources in Colorado
CHI provided an overview of its work with the ABC initiative in 2021 after our office was recognized as a breastfeeding-friendly workplace. Much more has happened over the past year.
The ABC team exceeded its goals, with individualized outreach to more than 100 businesses in the Denver metro area and successful breastfeeding-friendly recognition of nearly half of them. Over 200 organizations have been recognized as breastfeeding-friendly since 2018. ABC also supported lactation training for 52 individuals — many of whom identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), or are Spanish-speaking. Expanding representation in lactation professions is crucial to building trust among community members. These trainings support varied needs, from foundational lactation education for providers to bolster their work with families, to providing course credits for professionals on their path to advanced lactation consultant certification.
Our work went beyond the metro area to offer support throughout most regions of Colorado. The team funded and provided technical assistance for 25 projects across the state through the Human Milk Feeding Supportive Funding Program, including creating a new lactation group in Chaffee County, hosting a lactation station at farmers markets in the Durango area, and supporting the Rocky Mountain Mothers’ Milk Bank in adding three new sites in different regions.
In our fifth and final grant year, the ABC team’s list of goals is extensive. Just a handful of the objectives we hope to accomplish:
- Continuing the transition from county-level to statewide certification models for child care programs and worksites, to ensure the continuity of work developed through this grant. In particular, the child care certification allows programs to obtain points in Colorado Shines through a breastfeeding friendly self-assessment and quality improvement plan.
- Prioritizing impactful evaluation, strong connections to existing resources, and a thoughtful sustainability plan.
- Thinking critically about advancing racial and health equity, and assessing how our network and resources can best improve outcomes and reduce disparities. We are accomplishing this through efforts such as applying an equity lens to our decision-making, raising awareness around the lack of cultural competence in training programs, increasing the number of lactation professionals of color, and prioritizing assistance for sites that serve populations most in need of more breastfeeding supports, such as worksites that employ mostly low-wage or hourly workers.
Breastfeeding in the News
Those who didn't know about National Breastfeeding Month have likely seen news reports of the formula shortage or noticed those empty shelves at the grocery store. Product recalls and limited production facilities left many parents frantic and unable to find food their babies needed. While the shortage continues, national steps like importing international formula have alleviated some of the pressure, and Colorado has stepped up to provide increased resources across the state. The shortage is an excellent reminder of the need to support infant feeding in all forms.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recently published a set of recommendations, including one calling for more support for breastfeeding parents. The AAP acknowledges that “not everyone can breastfeed or continue breastfeeding for as long as desired for various reasons,” and asserts that “families deserve nonjudgmental support, information, and help” to do so. Breastfeeding is not free for anyone, and it is incredibly time consuming. Estimates generally put a year of breastfeeding at around 1,800 hours of time — nearly the equivalent of a full-time job. And many breastfeeding parents, especially in communities of color, don’t have access to the time, space, or other resources they need to make it work.
Sharing our Lessons Learned
At CHI, we’ve thought a lot about what our work on ABC has taught us about collaboration and impact. What are some of our greatest takeaways?
One is that ABC’s model — a backbone organization that supports other organizations working on the ground — has been highly effective. It allows everyone to leverage their best skillsets. CHI’s team uses our expertise in convening, facilitation, project management, and evaluation to free up time for local public health agencies, the experts in lactation support and work in their communities, to do what they do best without an added administrative burden.
Collaborators should be allowed to contribute in ways that play to their strengths. Each of CHI’s partner agencies has stepped up to lead in different ways. For example, staff at the Public Health Institute at Denver Health have spearheaded much of the team’s equity work; Boulder County Public Health has increased its capacity for Spanish-language outreach and translation; Jefferson County Public Health has convened useful learning sessions and supported a Community Lactation Access Program training; and Tri-County Health Department has led the way on worksite wellness initiatives. We have had the pleasure of seeing local partners develop into breastfeeding-friendly leaders.
In addition, dollar amounts and other types of support don’t always have to be big in order to make a big difference. This has been especially clear through ABC’s work outside of the Denver metro area, which has evolved and grown over the years. Partners around the state deeply value having spaces to come together with those from different regions (virtually or in person). Simply creating more of these spaces has been one of our biggest contributions in rural areas. Community members already know what they need; the best thing we can do is empower them.
The scope of public health efforts is so much broader than disease control, and ABC has provided a powerful learning experience and connection opportunities to improve the health of people across Colorado. Even though it’s just one piece of the public health pie, lactation support has far-reaching impacts in support of individuals, families, and communities. CHI has been honored to play a small part in the work.
Check out this article from our ABC colleagues at the Tri-County Health Department for more reflections on National Breastfeeding Month. It's not too late to get involved. If you’re interested in pursing recognition as a breastfeeding-friendly workplace, participating in a lactation training, or securing financial support or technical assistance for breastfeeding efforts in your community, contact Nina Bastian at CHI.
- Breastfeeding Success Depends on Many Influencers (article from the Tri-County Health Department)
- Toolkits for parents (English), parents (Spanish), employers, medical offices
- Denver metro resource guides: Boulder County Public Health, Public Health Institute at Denver Health (Denver County), Jefferson County Public Health, and Tri-County Health Department (Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties) English Guide and Spanish Guide