Education at heart of Breastfeeding Month

August is Breastfeeding Month and local agencies are highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding for babies and their moms. Educating and straying away from the societal stigma is at the forefront of the tactics that the program is using to change the way communities look at public breastfeeding.

National Breastfeeding Month began on Aug. 1 and is being celebrated by WIC, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that focuses on providing healthy food and nutritional support to those women and children who qualify. WIC is mostly known for the food packages they supply to new mothers, but the organization wants to let the Central Valley community know they are here to provide much more than that.

“We really are trying to get the word out to the community that we offer breastfeeding support and education,” said Adourin Malco, the regional breastfeeding liaison for the Merced/Mariposa County WIC Program. “We also offer nutrition education and community referrals. We offer so much more than what people think. There are classes, and material on breastfeeding and healthy lifestyles that we also have available to our communities.”

The California WIC Program — and the local program through the Merced County Community Action Agency — are highlighting the benefits that breastfeeding has on not only babies, but also on mothers.

In addition, breastfeeding resources are available to mothers who qualify for the WIC program. Free breast pumps (manual, electric, and hospital grade pumps) are available to new moms. A peer counselor program, made up of five women who are dedicated to talking to breastfeeding moms, is another benefit of the WIC Program.

Peer counselors can provide help with positioning and latching, tips on how to breast-feed comfortably and discreetly, even in public, ways you can stay close to your baby through breastfeeding after you return to work or school. Other services they provide include; ideas for getting support from family and friends, ways to get a good start with breastfeeding, tips for making plenty of breast milk for the baby, and information on the baby sleeping and feeding patterns.

“They become their friends during the time that they are pregnant,” said Jacqueline Aquas, a lactation coordinator with the program. “And once they deliver, either mom will call the peer counselor or the peer counselor will call mom. There is an open relationship there — that way moms can approach their personal peer counselor.”

The WIC Peer Counselors are a unique part of the Merced County WIC program that is not available in many other counties throughout the state. The five counselors service areas in Los Banos, Merced, Livingston, and Dos Palos. Peer counselors are all mothers who have breastfed and have the information and engagement to pass their knowledge along to new mothers. They are an intimate support system that some mothers can sometimes lack within their personal friends and family circle.

The local WIC office is located at 1235 W Main St. and is also available to mothers with questions about breastfeeding. The office also holds a private space for mothers who need a room to breastfeed if they have nowhere else to breastfeed while in public.

“The education for breastfeeding begins in the prenatal period, so they know ahead of time what to expect,” Aguas said. “A lot of our moms are new moms so just in general, when it comes to breastfeeding, we definitely want to get the information out there during the time that they are pregnant.”

“We are here to teach about how great breast feeding is and the benefits that come with breastfeeding. We also understand that realistically there are barriers when it comes to breastfeeding,” Malco continued. “Whether it’s being at school or at work and within different perspectives that come from family. We want to be those people who people will come to for help, to feel safe and supportive and come in and utilize all the great things we have here for them. We don’t want them to stop when things get hard. We want to try as much as we can to give them all the information before they make the decision (to breastfeed or not).”

Some breastfeeding benefits include protection against SIDS and lower risks of asthma and diabetes for babies.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” Aguas said. “Some mothers might even be given the evil eye but that is why we need to do a lot of educating. In order to be successful, the whole community needs to be involved.”

Whether that be by normalizing public breastfeeding or learning information through the PDF flyers the organization has on their website; WIC wants to be at the forefront of community engagement and educating when it comes to normalizing breastfeeding.

To qualify for these services and more, the applicant needs to be pregnant, postpartum up to one year if they are breastfeeding, or postpartum up to six months if they are not breastfeeding; and also meet certain eligibility guidelines that include having a child or caring for a child under 5 years of age, having low-to-medium income, or receiving Medical, CalWORKS (TANF), or CalFresh (SNAP) benefits and live in California. Full eligibility guidelines are available online at: www.MyFamily.WIC.ca.gov or by phone at 1-888-942-9675.

For more information on breastfeeding and the benefits, please visit online: www.wicmerced-mariposa.com/breastfeeding.

MercedMerced County
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