In order to support and encourage mothers to breastfeed, Merced community organizations are bringing in more lactation consultants and specialists.
Through a grant, Partners to Improve Community Health Initiative, community members are able to take a prep course, “Grow Your Own,” that prepares them for the exam to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, or IBCLC.
According to the 2016 Community Health Assessment by the Merced County Department of Public Health, the county has consistently low rates of exclusive breastfeeding compared to the rest of the state. About 60 percent of mothers in Merced County report breastfeeding in the hospital after delivery. The state average is about 64 percent.
The course lasted from April to November, and most of the 18 participants worked in health-related fields in the community, said Stephanie Nathan, public health program manager for the Department of Public Health.
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One of the gaps in breastfeeding education and support in the county was the limited number of certified lactation consultants, Nathan said, and having the course in Merced County has the potential to change that.
After the course ended, participants graduated as either certified lactation consultants or specialists, Nathan said. All graduates are required to complete 1,000 hours of hands-on experience before taking the certification exam.
Allison Speidel, regional breastfeeding liaison for Women, Infants and Children, was able to further her education on breastfeeding by taking the course, she said.
“We want to really establish that breast milk is the biological norm,” Speidel said. “We want to empower women to breastfeed.”
Breastfeeding is beneficial not only for the baby but for the mother. Mothers choosing to breastfeed are less likely to develop reproductive cancers and can burn 500 calories a day just by “sitting on the couch breastfeeding baby and watching Netflix,” Speidel said.
Breastfed babies are less likely to be obese and develop illnesses, ranging from the flu, asthma and cancer, Speidel said. Especially since obesity and asthma rates are high in Merced County, she said, it’s important for local women to know there is support for them.
There is a large population of mothers who encounter challenges during breastfeeding, said Cindy Valencia, public health program manager for the county Department of Public Health. Not producing enough milk and going back to work can be problems mothers encounter, she said, and the lactation specialists are there to solve problems.
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486