Board supports healthy families with month-long tribute to breastfeeding

August 27, 2015

Alicia Navaro, mother of three, told the board that she was grateful for the breastfeeding information she received from county WIC employee Joanna Aranda Lopez.

The Multnomah County Health Department has helped Oregon mothers reach some of the highest breastfeeding rates in the country.

On Thursday, the Board of County Commissioners vowed to support policies and programs aimed at taking those rates even higher.

After an upbeat, coo-filled presentation from mothers with young children, the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed August 2015 as Breastfeeding Awareness month in Multnomah County.

“I wish you guys could come every day,’’ Commissioner Loretta Smith told the families as she brought the proclamation forward.

Many mothers start breastfeeding, but soon give up

Commissioner Loretta Smith brought forward Thursday’s proclamation.
Commissioner Loretta Smith brought forward Thursday’s proclamation.

“Breastfeeding helps keep babies well throughout their entire life”, said Dr. Paul Lewis, Multnomah County Health officer.  

“Breastfeeding helps kids avoid illness like ear infection, devastating events like SIDS, and even obesity. It’s good for moms too, reducing the risk of cancer, keeps bones strong and reduces the risk of postpartum depression.’’

It is also good for financial health, he said, as families spend less on formula and breastfeeding employees have lower healthcare costs and reduced absenteeism.

But while most mothers in Multnomah County begin breastfeeding, within six months, the rate has dropped to 13 percent. The rate is even lower among African-American families.

“This is not a failure on the part of mothers but a challenge to us all to understand the barriers and to support women in continuing to breastfeed,’’ Lewis said.

County’s efforts make a difference

WIC employee Grayce Bentley with her son Hugh at Thursday's board meeting.

To combat the dramatic decline in breastfeeding, in 2010, the county’s WIC staff launched peer support. The program provides group and individual attention to help women achieve their goals, said manager Mary Wachsmuth.

About 740 mothers are currently enrolled in group which meet monthly. They receive follow up support for up to a year. Since the program started in 2010, the rate of women  exclusively breastfeeding at three months has jumped to 52 percent, up from 42 percent. After six months, the rate had risen to 42 percent from 35 percent. The Women Infant and Children’s team (WIC) also started an African American support group at the community’s request, and those women report rates have increased twice as fast as elsewhere.

Wachsmuth said in 2016,  a new breastfeeding support group will begin at Gateway WIC. And Multnomah County offers the only Spanish speaking breastfeeding support groups.

A passionate peer counselor describes the program

Commissioner Jules Bailey said he didn’t realize the challenges of breastfeeding until he attended a class recently with his expectant wife.
Commissioner Jules Bailey said he didn’t realize the challenges of breastfeeding until he attended a class recently with his expectant wife.

Joanna Aranda Lopez, a bilingual peer counselor, said as a young mother of two daughters, her own mother, fellow WIC employee, Rocio Lopez,  encouraged her when she wanted to quit breastfeeding.

When she became one of the youngest peer counselors in the state for the county program, she worked to support other moms in that way. She meets mothers before birth to talk about the benefits of skin to skin touch, about labor and delivery, and postpartum support, including infant massage and feeding. She works with librarians to help moms teach. They meet after and stay in touch for months.

A mother thanks the board

Alicia Navaro, a mother of three, explained through a Spanish translator that before she met Aranda Lopez,  “I was only giving a little time to breastfeeding my children, but when I met Joanna and got into the the program, everything changed because of the information she helped me come to know.”

“It’s changed us and I am so grateful.’’

Commissioner Jules Bailey said he didn’t realize the challenges of breastfeeding until he attended a class recently with his expectant wife.

“Like a lot of men, I thought it just happened,’’ he said. “I realized how important it is to have a workplace that is safe, conducive and affirming to breastfeeding and to have paid time off for mothers and fathers to establish that bond and practice before going back to work.’’

Chair Deborah Kafoury said she was glad to hear Commissioner Bailey’s realization that having a supportive partner, families and friends, also makes a difference.

“They made a difference for me. So good job.”