The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) is embarking on a five-year initiative to encourage more mothers in high need areas of Monroe County to breastfeed exclusively for the recommended six months. The project, supported by a $970,000 grant from the New York State Department of Health, aims to normalize breastfeeding by protecting the practice in community settings and businesses and helping health care providers support and educate families.
URMC is one of six entities to receive funding from the state, which awarded a total of $5.8 million. The recipients of the grants serve communities with higher than average rates of poverty and obesity, which are associated with lower rates of exclusive breastfeeding.
“We know that breastfeeding has proven health benefits for both mothers and babies, but it is evident that women are still facing barriers after they leave the hospital. In New York state, only 56 percent of infants are breastfed for six months,” said Stephen Cook, M.D., associate professor of Pediatrics at URMC, who, along with Ann Dozier, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences, is leading the initiative. “This project is unique because it involves making policy and practice changes across multiple settings — from the pediatrician’s office to the support centers in the community — to ensure all women have access to high-quality education and resources.”
The initiative, a joint venture with the Monroe County Department of Health and Public Health Commissioner Michael Mendoza, M.D., has five goals: expand the work of the Rochester Regional Breastfeeding Coalition, which works to normalize breastfeeding by providing lactation education and support services; increase the number of Baby Cafes© where breastfeeding women receive support from their peers and lactation consultants; increase the number of worksites that provide accommodations for breastfeeding employees; and increase the number of day care centers and health care practices serving Medicaid-eligible women and their children that achieve the state’s Breastfeeding Friendly Designation.
To earn the designation, practices must complete a 10-step process that involves the establishment of breastfeeding friendly policies and the training of staff to discuss the benefits of breastfeeding with mothers, provide assistance and support, and refer patients to support services, such as lactation counselors and breast pump rental locations. Three practices in Rochester have earned the designation.
Similarly, day care centers can earn the Breastfeeding Friendly Designation by providing mothers with a space to breastfeed and properly store breastmilk, among other requirements.
To meet the project’s goals, a local multidisciplinary team is recruiting local health care practices, day care centers, and worksites and assisting them in establishing breastfeeding friendly policies and providing mothers with appropriate accommodations. The team is also working to identify possible locations for Baby Cafes© and other support groups, and to expand other currently available services, such as those provided by the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program.
“We hope to enhance the education women receive starting at the beginning of their pregnancies, and once their babies are born, provide them with a robust support system right in their communities,” said Cook. “The ultimate goal is to make breastfeeding the norm — not the exception.”
A team of community members and representatives from local institutions, including URMC, the Monroe County Department of Health, Rochester Regional Health, WIC, Anthony Jordan Health, the Worksite Health Alliance of Greater Rochester, and the Child Care Council are leading the project.