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MCHD WIC helps mothers with breastfeeding year-round

MCHD WIC helps mothers with breastfeeding year-round

Aug. 31, 2022

By Mary Wade Burnside

As we get ready to say goodbye to August, we’re recognizing National Breastfeeding Month. Helping mothers nourish their children is the crux of the mission at Monongalia County Health Department’s Women, Infants & Children’s (WIC) program every month of the year, and breastfeeding is one of the ways our counselors can help.

For instance, MCHD WIC, which serves not only Monongalia County but also Preston, Marion, Harrison, Doddridge and Taylor, offers free breastfeeding classes to the public, not just those who qualify for WIC.

Those who do qualify also have access to breastfeeding counseling and, in West Virginia, 24/7 access to real counselors via an app called Pacify that allows parents to ask questions no matter what time of day or night.

Breastfeeding has a lot of benefits both for mother and baby. For the mother, breastfeeding can help normalize weight and also offers relaxing hormones, said Lynne Ryan, an MCHD WIC breastfeeding counselor and lactation specialist.

And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast milk is a great source of nutrition. As the baby grows, the mother’s breast milk will change to meet her baby’s nutritional needs.

“It helps the baby’s immune system and gives them a healthier gut,” Ryan said.

Mothers also pass on antibodies to their babies. That’s always been true, but this fact has important implications during the COVID pandemic. A vaccinated mother will pass on protection to their young babies, who cannot get inoculated until the age of 6 months.

And even if a mother gets COVID, those antibodies are helpful to the infant. Infected mothers who choose to do this should always wash their hands before and after breastfeeding and wear a mask. They also can choose to pump their milk, which can be fed via bottle.

A recent infant formula shortage also raised the prospect of breastfeeding as at least a partial solution. Of course, this is not an option for a mother who has not established a breastfeeding relationship and who no longer has milk to provide.

However, Ryan said, for moms already breastfeeding along with feeding their babies infant formula, “They can re-lactate and increase their breast milk production and go from half breastfeeding to full.”

In 2011, the United States Breastfeeding Committee declared August as National Breastfeeding Month to raise awareness about this age-old practice. While it can be joyful, it definitely can present some challenges. Breastfeeding requires education and practice just to get the baby to latch on to the breast. Mothers who return to work can face issues trying to find the time and space to pump. 

And not all mothers have been welcomed when breastfeeding in public, sometimes experiencing admonishment from management. However, legislation that went into effect June 6, 2014, in West Virginia affirmed a woman’s right to breastfeed anywhere in public.

Also, federal legislation protects the right to pump at the workplace. “In an eight-hour workday, three 15-minute breaks usually takes care of it,” Ryan said.

Individuals eligible for WIC, a federal nutrition program, include pregnant or postpartum people and children from birth up to their fifth birthday who meet income guidelines. Foster parents also automatically qualify, and anyone facing unpaid maternity leave can check to see if they can get temporary help. In addition to breastfeeding counselors, participants also receive food vouchers and nutritional advice.

Angie Rebrook, MCHD WIC’s breastfeeding coordinator, noted that the practice has a lot of positive repercussions for various segments of society.

“Breastfeeding is key to sustainable development strategies post-pandemic, as it improves nutrition, ensures food security and reduces inequalities between and within countries,” she said.

Of course, efforts like these start locally, and that’s why MCHD WIC is here. Check our website for eligibility guidelines and free public breastfeeding classes.

Mary Wade Burnside is the public information officer at Monongalia County Health Department.

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