August is National Breastfeeding Month

By Teri Ewell, MPH, RD, IBCLC, Solano County Health & Social Services

The theme for National Breastfeeding Month 2022 is “Every Step of the Way.”

It is important that pregnant people are provided education and support every step of the way in their breastfeeding journey – from conception to delivery to weaning. Continuity of care spans all fields, from health care providers, clinics, hospitals, public health programs and, ultimately, the community.

The purpose of National Breastfeeding Month is to bring awareness to the importance of supporting and protecting breastfeeding, particularly during disasters or pandemics when health inequities are magnified. Exclusive breastfeeding is the cornerstone of child survival and child health because it provides essential, irreplaceable nutrition for a child’s growth and development. It serves as a child’s first immunization, providing protection from respiratory infections, diarrheal disease and other potentially life-threatening ailments. Human milk provides virtually all the protein, sugar, fat and nutrients a baby needs to be healthy. It contains many substances that support the baby’s immune system, including disease fighting antibodies, immune factors, enzymes and white blood cells – all essential components to build a resilient and thriving child.

In addition to providing needed physiological benefits, breastfeeding is important for the mother’s mental health by reducing maternal depression and anxiety. During times of stress, breast-feeding signals the mother’s body to produce oxytocin, a relaxation hormone. The infant also produces oxytocin while breastfeeding, causing the infant to sleep and relax with a feeling of being nurtured and cared for. Studies show breast-feeding reduces stress, resulting in better maternal mental health.

Breastfeeding can ensure a healthy infant receives the “gold standard” of nutrition, while providing a cost savings to the family. Breast-fed infants have fewer ear and respiratory infections. A key component in maintaining an infant’s food security is accomplished by ensuring the mom and baby dyad is supported with resources by focusing breastfeeding services to underserved and economically disadvantaged communities. The focus of National Breastfeeding Month is the urgency to restore breastfeeding support systems to the pre-pandemic levels and strengthen the capacities of these systems to achieve the World Health Organization’s 2025 global nutrition targets of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of half of the infants born.

The Breastfeeding Coalition of Solano County, in conjunction with the Black Infant Health Program and The Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC), will commemorate National Breastfeeding Month by sponsoring two events: Milk at the Market at the Fairfield Farmers Market in Fairfield on Aug. 4 where they will have games, giveaways and lots of breastfeeding education for patrons of the market; and on Aug. 11, they will have their long-awaited Donor Milk Drive that will commemorate the official grand opening of the Solano County Donor Milk Collection Center. This collection center will be the only site on the I-80 corridor between San Francisco and Sacramento that receives and ships donor breast milk to the Mothers’ Milk Bank of San Jose. When a breastfeeding mother has an excess of stored breastmilk, they will be able to donate so it can be provided to vulnerable infants, especially those in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units. A prescreened milk donor can drop off their breast milk at the collection center in Fairfield. Trained staff will accept the donation and forward it to the Mothers’ Milk Bank, which screens, processes and dispenses donated human milk to the recipients.

Teri Ewell is a lactation educator and counselor at Solano County Health & Social Services, Solano Public Health, Nutrition Services Department.