Breastfeeding counselors at Monongalia County Health Department’s WIC program jumped into action and thus was born the Breastfeeding Awareness Walk.
This year, the 11th event will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, which also happens to be the first day of both National Breastfeeding Month and World Breastfeeding Week. It is sponsored by MCHD WIC and Monongalia County Breastfeeding Task Force.
Like the name states, the walk, which takes place at the WVU Erickson Alumni Center, raises awareness about what the folks who host World Breastfeeding Week selected as this year’s theme, “Foundation of Life.”
After all, it’s the basis of being a mammal. Just check Wikipedia. “Females of all mammal species nurse their young with milk, secreted from the mammary glands.”
Except it makes some humans feel uncomfortable. WIC counselors want to change that, and the Breastfeeding Awareness Walk is one method to convey to the public that not only is breastfeeding a completely natural part of the human experience, but it also provides both mother and baby with many benefits in addition to the obvious one of nutrition for the infant.
“It helps the baby’s immune system and gives them a healthier gut,” says Lynne Ryan, WIC’s breastfeeding coordinator.
For the mom, breastfeeding helps normalize her weight and the state of lactating releases hormones that are relaxing, which help her body readjust after going through a pregnancy, Ryan added.
WIC’s breastfeeding counselors talk to their pregnant clients to help them prepare for how to go about this loving task after their babies are born. WIC clients are pregnant and postpartum women and infants and children up to age 5 who meet generous income guidelines. But even women who are not WIC clients can attend free breastfeeding classes, which take place in Monongalia County on the first and third Wednesday of the month at 4 p.m. and the second Wednesday at 10 a.m.
Preparation for breastfeeding is important, Ryan noted. In addition to teaching about the actual act of getting the baby to latch onto mom’s breast and feed, Ryan and her colleagues provide handy tips and advice. That includes breastfeeding in public, because some women might feel uneasy about it, at least at first.
“It’s a learned skill, to nurse in public,” Ryan said.
It also might be helpful for nursing mothers to know that not only is it perfectly natural to breastfeed in public, it’s also state law. Legislation that went into effect June 6, 2014 affirmed a woman’s right to breastfeed anywhere in public.
Knowing that the law is on her side helps embolden a new mother, Ryan said. So does helpful advice, such as figuring out what to wear to provide easy access for the baby. Mothers also might want to consider where they breastfeed, perhaps selecting a booth in a restaurant instead of the center of a room. “The more confident a woman gets, the less people notice her,” Ryan added.
Another tip: If a mother can tell that her baby is showing interest in feeding, it’s better to start sooner rather than after the baby starts to cry and everyone starts looking their way.
About 54 percent of MCHD’s WIC moms at least give breastfeeding a shot, Ryan said. This number is up from 13 percent before more WIC breastfeeding counselors were added in 1991. “The number has climbed and climbed,” Ryan said.
Counselors also work with each pregnant woman’s situation. However, when expectant mothers tell Ryan that they don’t want to breastfeed in public and instead plan to pump and bottle feed their babies while out in the world, Ryan tells them that it doesn’t usually work that way.
“If you go out for four hours and the baby is feeding every two hours, if you don’t feed, your breasts are going to get more and more engorged, and that’s the set-up for a breast infection,” she said. “The two things need to happen together. They don’t understand it until they are living it.”
The Breastfeeding Awareness Walk is designed to help both mothers and expectant mothers feel more comfortable with this natural way to feed and bond with a baby, as well as educate the public.
Ryan still hears stories about women being asked to leave a business because of breastfeeding, and she wants that to change.
“I’d love to have a story where someone goes up to a mother and says, ‘You are doing such a good job. That’s a happy, healthy baby.’ If only that would make the news.”
Doors open at 4:30 p.m., with a diaper derby at 5 p.m., the walk at 5:30 p.m., and refreshments and activities at 6 p.m. For more information about the MCHD WIC Breastfeeding Awareness Walk, which is free and open to the public, call (304) 598-5181.