Education at the heart of Breastfeeding Month – Merced County Times

August is Breastfeeding Month and local agencies are highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding for babies and their mothers. Education and de-stigmatization are at the forefront of the tactics the program is using to change the way communities view public breastfeeding.

National Breastfeeding Month begins August 1 and is celebrated by WIC, a USDA-funded program focused on providing healthy food and nutritional support to those eligible women and children. WIC is mostly known for the food packages they give new moms, but the organization wants to let the Central Valley community know they’re here to deliver so much more.

“We are really trying to get the word out to the community that we provide breastfeeding support and education,” said Adorin Malko, WIC Regional Breastfeeding Coordinator for Mariposa/Merced County. We also offer nutrition education and community referrals. We offer much more than people think. There are chapters and materials on breastfeeding and healthy lifestyles that we also provide to our communities.”

The WIC program in California—and the local program through the Merced County Community Action Agency—highlights the benefits of breastfeeding not only to children, but also to mothers.

Additionally, breastfeeding resources are available for WIC-eligible mothers. Free breast pumps (manual, electric and hospital pumps) are available for new mothers. The Peer Counselor Program, made up of five women dedicated to talking to breastfeeding mothers, is another benefit of WIC.

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Peer counselors can provide help with positioning and latching, advice on how to breastfeed comfortably and discreetly, even in public, and ways you can stay close to your baby through breastfeeding after returning to work or school. Other services they provide include; Ideas for getting support from family and friends, ways to get a good start on breastfeeding, tips for making plenty of breast milk for baby, and information on baby’s sleeping and feeding patterns.

They become their best friend during pregnancy,” said Jacqueline Aquas, the program’s lactation coordinator. “Once they give birth, either the mother will contact the peer counselor or the peer counselor will contact my mother. There is an open relationship – that way mothers can communicate with their personal peer counselor.”

WIC Peer Counselors are a unique part of the Merced County WIC program that is not available in many other counties across the state. The five advisor service areas of Los Banos, Merced, Livingston and Dos Palos. Peer counselors are all breastfeeding moms who have the information and participation to pass on their knowledge to new moms. It is an intimate support system that some mothers may sometimes lack within their circle of friends and family.

The local WIC office is located at 1235 W Main St. It is also available for mothers who have questions about breastfeeding. The office also has a special space for mothers who need a room to nurse if they don’t have another place to nurse while in public.

“Breastfeeding education starts in the prenatal period, so they know in advance what to expect,” Aguas said. “A lot of our moms are new moms, so in general, when it comes to breastfeeding, we definitely want to get informed during pregnancy.”

“We are here to teach you how amazing breastfeeding is and the benefits that come from breastfeeding. We also understand that there are realistic barriers when it comes to breastfeeding.” Whether it’s at school or at work and with different perspectives that come from the family. We want to be those people who will come to them for help, to feel safe and supported and to come and use all the wonderful things we have here for them. We don’t want them to stop when things get tough. We want to try as much as we can to give them all the information before they make the decision (breastfeed or not).”

Some of the benefits of breastfeeding include protection against sudden infant death syndrome and a reduced risk of asthma and diabetes for children.

“There is a lot of misinformation,” Aguas said. “Some mothers may be given the evil eye but that is why we need a lot of education. To be successful, the whole community has to be involved.”

Be it by normalizing public breastfeeding or learning information through the PDF flyers the organization has on its website; WIC wants to be at the forefront of community engagement and education when it comes to normalizing breastfeeding.

To qualify for these services and more, the applicant must be pregnant, postpartum up to one year if she is breast-feeding, or postpartum up to six months if she is not; Also meet certain eligibility guidelines that include having a child or caring for a child under 5 years old, having a low to moderate income, receiving Medicaid or CalWORKS (TANF) or CalFresh (SNAP) benefits and living in California. Complete eligibility guidelines are available online at: www.MyFamily.WIC.ca.gov or by phone at 1-888-942-9675.

For more information about breastfeeding and its benefits, please visit the website: www.wicmerced-mariposa.com/breastfeeding.