"Building Bridges Toward Equity” is the theme of the second annual Conference to Eliminate Racial Disparities in Breastfeeding and Infant Mortality, scheduled for Wednesday, May 3, 2017. The conference will be held at the University of Cincinnati (UC) Tangeman University Center (TUC) from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
"Breastfeeding provides infants with the best possible start in life,” says Julie Ware, MD, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in the Center for Breastfeeding Medicine and co-chair of the conference. "Although the initiation of breastfeeding is now nearing the Healthy People 2020 goals of 81.9 percent in the U.S., there remains a large disparity in breastfeeding among African-American women.”
In Cincinnati, differences in breastfeeding across demographics are profound, according to Ware, with 75 percent of white mothers initiating breastfeeding compared to 50 percent of black mothers. She also says neighborhood differences in initiation of breastfeeding are as high as 55 percent.
"Health disparities, such as infant mortality, can be ameliorated when babies are breastfed,” says Ware. "Breastfeeding is now described as a public health imperative. We have to do all we can to support all women to breastfeed their babies.”
Last year’s inaugural event attracted over 160 health care professionals and sold out quickly. To accommodate an anticipated larger crowd this year, the conference has moved to the MainStreet Cinema, atrium and break out rooms at TUC.
"The interest from last year indicates that many health care providers in our community are aware that we have disparities in breastfeeding practices and infant mortality rates, and they desire to address these disparities,” says Laurie Nommsen-Rivers, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Allied Health Sciences and co-chair of the conference. "This conference will unpack concepts such as bias in access to breastfeeding encouragement, culturally-tailored breastfeeding support, high-quality clinical care and other barriers that stand in the way of African-American mothers feeling fully supported in reaching their breastfeeding goals.”
The morning session of the conference features four speakers. O’dell Owens, MD, president and CEO of Interact for Health will lead things off, followed by Colleen Kraft, MD, associate professor, Department of Pediatrics at the UC College of Medicine, medical director of the Health Network at Cincinnati Children’s r and president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Kimarie Bugg, chief empowerment officer of Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), is the keynote speaker, and Bleuzette Marshall, PhD, UC’s vice president for equity and inclusion is also a guest speaker.
Facilitated breakout sessions highlight the afternoon portion of the conference. Discussion topics include prenatal breastfeeding support, promotion and encouragement; culturally appropriate outreach for family members—dads, grandparents and more; community engagement through social media; and breastfeeding support beyond the hospital.
Natashia Conner, a lactation consultant at UC Medical Center, says after the birth of her first child, she went looking for breastfeeding support and had an unpleasant and unproductive experience.
"The lactation consultant basically grabbed my nipple and shoved it into my baby’s mouth,” Conner says. "She was unpleasant, she did not teach me the basics on breastfeeding, or how to get back to breastfeeding.”
She says the situation hadn’t improved much by the time she had her third child.
Conner says, "I remember when she was about four months old and we went to the ‘The Big Latch On’ event,” which is a collection of community breastfeeding events around the world. "This was the most uncomfortable experience I had ever had. Not only were there only three African-American women there but we were all from a lower socioeconomic status than other participants. I realized that getting the care I needed would be all but impossible.”
Conner serves on the planning committee for the conference, as does Janelle McClain-Richardson, the chief executive officer and executive director of Breastfeeding Outreach for Our Beautiful Sisters (BOOBS). McClain-Richardson founded BOOBS two years ago following her own frustrating experiences in finding support services while trying to breastfeed after the births of each of her two children.
She says one of her goals for the conference is to get a dialogue going between health care professionals and moms in the community, especially African-American and low-income moms.
"Having those conversations with the community helps everyone understand how breastfeeding can be successfully done in many environments and in many situations,” McClain-Richardson says. "It allows moms to understand that their situation is not unique and even though they may see certain things as obstacles, there’s a way around those obstacles and here’s how we can help moms achieve breastfeeding successfully.”
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley issued a proclamation declaring May 3, 2017 as "African-American Breastfeeding Celebration and Promotion Day” in Cincinnati. In his proclamation, Cranley wrote, "Supporting breastfeeding is an important component in eradicating poverty, as it provides the best nutrition, the greatest infection protection and the greatest food security and psychological protection for newborns.”
Registration is free for all UC students. To register or for more information on the conference, click here
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