Health Department Launches Campaign “Breastfeeding Friendly Communities” From Harlem To Hollis

September 15, 2017

The Health Department’s Center for Health Equity launched a new campaign “Breastfeeding Friendly Communities” to raise awareness about a mother’s right to breastfeed in public whenever and wherever she chooses. The campaign features a 30 second video about a mother in the Bronx who shares the challenges she had breastfeeding in public but encourages new mothers to persevere. The campaign is currently running on Facebook and Instagram and in three movie theaters in Central Harlem (MJ Harlem 9),

Co-op City in the Bronx (AMC Bay Plaza 13), and downtown Brooklyn (Court Street Stadium 12). The campaign was created with support from the New York City Creating Breastfeeding Friendly Communities (CBFC) grant funded by the New York State Department of Health.

The “Breastfeeding Friendly Communities” campaign is part of ongoing City efforts to promote and support breastfeeding in communities with the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the city. In early August, the Health Department announced the opening of five “lactation pods” around the city, one in each borough, in locations that serve parents and families. The lactation pods are now available to the public at NYC Health + Hospitals’ Queens Hospital Center and Harlem Hospital Center; the Bronx Zoo; the Staten Island Children’s Museum; and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

“I know firsthand what it’s like to be met with disapproval for breastfeeding in front of others, even within the confines of the home,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, Honorary Chairwoman of the Commission on Gender Equity. “Breastfeeding Friendly Communities is a bold campaign that reaffirms women’s rights to breastfeed throughout New York City and educates individuals about the natural, normal human function that has many proven health benefits. No woman should be inconvenienced or shamed for providing nourishment to their child.”

“We are proud to release a campaign that encourages a breastfeeding-friendly culture,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Moms like Laura should feel supported in their choice to breastfeed whenever and wherever they need. Supporting families to make the best choices to raise healthy babies requires everyone’s participation. These videos are an invitation to New Yorkers to join in making moms feel comfortable when they choose to breastfeed in public.”

“The New York State Department of Health is funding these efforts in New York City to make breastfeeding a natural part of community life and help women feel comfortable breastfeeding in public,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker. “This campaign builds upon New York State’s extensive efforts to promote and protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in any location she chooses. Women should feel supported by all segments of society in their decision to breastfeed, which is linked to better infant and maternal health.”

“Sadly, mothers continue to be denied the right to breastfeed in many public places, and are shamed for fulfilling the basic need of feeding their hungry babies,” said Deputy Commissioner Dr. Aletha Maybank. “In order to normalize breastfeeding, we must go beyond educating mothers. Most expectant mothers know the benefits but they need everyone’s support in being able to exercise their legal right to breastfeed anytime, anywhere.”

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“No mother should ever feel embarrassed to do what is best for her baby,” said Theresa Landau, Chairperson, NYC Breastfeeding Leadership Council, Inc. “Every major health organization in the world recognizes the importance of breastfeeding.  It is a public health imperative – breastfeeding saves lives. It is up to us as a society to support mothers and families in their breastfeeding journey.  We, in partnership with the Health Department and other community based organizations, are working together to create a culture that is comfortable with breastfeeding.  New York City is providing many opportunities for moms to reach their breastfeeding goals, from prenatal care, to maternity hospital practices, to community support.  The NYC Breastfeeding Leadership Council, Inc. (NYCBLC) has worked tirelessly to educate the community about breastfeeding and to raise awareness that mothers and babies have the right to breastfeed wherever they are legally allowed to be, whether it is in the park, the supermarket, the library or even in the NYC subway. The Annual NYCBLC Subway Caravan is a perfect example of a grassroots activity to support breastfeeding anywhere, any time.”

“Brooklyn Borough Hall could not be prouder to be at the forefront of advancing breastfeeding-friendly communities,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. “The Community Lactation Room Law that we helped to author has cemented New York City’s position as a leader in breastfeeding empowerment, which has been furthered by our Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville. This new campaign, led by Health Commissioner Bassett, will help to advance these strides to support our borough in raising healthy children and families.”

“Breastfeeding is one of the most important and beautiful experiences a mother can share with her newborn. As a father of six children, I watched my wife – who is an executive – experience angst around breastfeeding after she returned to work, having to express milk in broom closets and unsanitary bathrooms across the city of New York in some very high-powered offices,” said Council Member Robert E. Cornegy.  “Passing the Community Lactation Room Law was a vital step in promoting and supporting the practice of breastfeeding. This campaign is the next important step in that process and I commend the Center for Health Equity for their efforts in continuing to encourage mothers to breastfeed their children.”

“Breastfeeding is a head start for babies – providing critical nutrition to support cognitive development and boost his or her immune system during the first six to twelve months of life. Education is the first step to building healthier communities. As chair of the Women’s Issues Committee and co-Chair of the Women’s Caucus, I want to thank the de Blasio Administration, Commissioner Bassett, and the Department of Health for bringing the resources that will normalize breastfeeding and encourage every community to support local  moms with raising the future of our city,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding with complementary foods until at least one year of age. Health Department data on breastfeeding trends in New York City show that babies born to women of color and from high-poverty neighborhoods are less likely to exclusively breastfeed during the first five days after giving birth. In 2015, Latina mothers had the lowest rates of exclusive breastfeeding in the hospital compared to other racial and ethnic groups, at 29.4 percent. Black mothers had the second lowest rate at 30.9 percent, followed by Asian/Pacific Islander women at 32.1 percent. In contrast, 47.5 percent of White mothers exclusively breastfed while in the hospital.

Other Health Department initiatives include:

  • Community Lactation Room Law. In August 2016, Mayor de Blasio signed legislation introduced by Council Member Robert E. Cornegy Jr. and at the behest of Brooklyn Borough President Eric. L. Adams, requiring the Administration for Children’s Services, New York City Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish lactation rooms in select locations where social services are offered to the public. As of today, there are almost 30 locations open, with more planned in the future. Locations are listed on the Health Department’s website. The Health Department also created a poster available for download identifying community lactation rooms.
  • Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone (BFEZ). Since 2013, the BFEZ has increased the number of breastfeeding spaces in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville to 89 establishments, including grocery stores, libraries, restaurants, child care centers, and laundromats. BFEZ has trained over 190 neighborhood residents and providers as doulas, certified lactation counselors and male peer educators. Members of the “empowerment zone” mobilize and educate local policymakers on the challenges faced by women, particularly women of color, when breastfeeding in public. BFEZ is an initiative funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
  • Newborn Home Visiting ProgramNurse-Family Partnership, and community-based initiatives at the Family Wellness Suites in the Neighborhood Health Action Centers.
  • Feeding Our Future: Breastfeeding Realities Among North and Central Brooklyn Women and Their Babies. A neighborhood report from the Center for Health Equity shows that most women in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville want to breastfeed but do not feel socially accepted in public spaces. The report offers recommendations for creating a more supportive environment across the city for moms who choose to breastfeed.
  • The “Improving Health Equity and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes Collaborative” project, which brings together 22 agencies across New York City to address disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes.
  • Partnerships with maternity hospitals, birthing centers and community-based agencies throughout the city to raise awareness about breastfeeding.
  • Certified Lactation Counselor training in hospitals to increase the skilled support available to breastfeeding families.

The Health Department also facilitates the New York City Breastfeeding Hospital Collaborative. The goal of this Collaborative is to increase the number of Baby-Friendly Designated facilities in New York City. Through this initiative the agency is working with 30 maternity facilities. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for lactation based on the WHO/UNICEF Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding for Hospitals. Currently, there are 15 Baby-Friendly Hospitals in New York City.

Photo credit: lactation center in Harlem source

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