Debbie Albert, BSN, PhD, IBCLC
Like so many of you, I used to approach this time of year with a sense of overwhelm. Much is expected of us daily, and Breastfeeding Week/Month activities just add that extra layer of responsibility that can put us over the edge. However, many of us can benefit from the sense of community that these activities bring to our work. It can create networking opportunities, and it can bring so many of us who sometimes feel alone in our profession—a sense of comradery.
Yes, it involves extra effort, but the rewards can lead to fun and community synergy. Every May, I check out the theme for World Breastfeeding Week by going to the WABA website. The World Breastfeeding Week campaign has been aligning their goals with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals since 2016. The 2021 theme: “Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility” gives us the chance to reach further out into the community. WABA has outlined four objectives for this endeavor:
1. Inform people about the importance of protecting breastfeeding.
2. Anchor breastfeeding support as a vital public health responsibility.
3. Engage with individuals and organizations for greater impact.
4. Galvanize action on protecting breastfeeding to increase public health. (www.worldbreastfeedingweek.org, May 5, 2021)
What makes the themes so enjoyable is that they are generic enough to allow for brainstorming and group discussion. You can imagine getting a group of people together, and every single person will have a different idea about how to accomplish these goals. This can be both daunting and exciting, but it is usually possible to create group consensus and a project is born.
Over the past couple of years, this campaign has been affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic. It has reduced our ability to gather people together, and as of this writing, many of us will not know if we are still in virtual mode or whether we can meet in groups. It is likely that we are planning virtual events because of the unknown. Although the pandemic has brought challenges, we can choose to focus on the positive.
For example, many of us have experienced a lack of visitation in the hospital setting for over a year now. Have you noticed the time available for parents to bond with their babies and to have time to nap and feed and hand express? Have you noticed the lack of friends or relatives requesting a formula bottle for them? In addition, those who have the privilege to work from home are reaping the benefits of being able to bond for a longer period. Although we can celebrate these victories, we are also dealing with a lack of in-person services in some communities. As many of us are aware, despite our small victories, there is a sense of isolation. There are increases in depression, anxiety, and suicide rates. New families are not immune to these issues.
Our organizations are not immune to these issues either. We have resorted to virtual meeting platforms like Zoom, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams. Organizations have held drive thru events with gift bags, virtual donor milk drives. We have relied on social media with fervency. The Sacramento Breastfeeding Coalition has thrived beyond what one could imagine during this pandemic.
My first event as President was a big IBCLC party honoring one of our longtime IBCLCs as well as our brand new IBCLCs. It was the last public event we could hold. After that it was all virtual and social media, but to our Board’s surprise, we did not die. In fact, we flourished. Board meetings were better attended because those who could not drive in, now felt more comfortable about calling in because ALL of us were calling in. Hospital participants who could never make it not only showed up–but strapped on some working boots. Our diversity attendance increased by over 50%. Actually, this group is in better shape than it has been before, but we sacrifice the ability to hug each other—which is very important for Lactation Consultants because we are true oxytocin fanatics.
Just like families and organizations have had to make sacrifices. World Breastfeeding Week activities sacrifice too. We won’t have open bowls with candy in them, cupcakes for everyone to grab at one time, or large crowds of parents for that matter. No huge “latch-on events”. Some of us might want to crawl into a hole and let the month of August pass us by, but I will try to coax you as I coax a new parent who is trying to quit breastfeeding. Please find a way to embrace social media and virtual events if you have not managed to do so yet. I am not a 20-year-old writing this article. If I can do it, you can too.
Since 2016, WABA has two concurrent campaigns. WBW-SDG and the Warm Chain Campaign. Both are accessible on the World Breastfeeding Week website: www.worldbreastfeedingweek.org. The WABA campaign theme changes on an annual basis, but the warm chain campaign recognizes stakeholders in the survival of infants for their first five years of life. They have cards that you can copy for everyone including physicians, LCs, midwives, marketing people, parents, young people etc. You can share these resources on your websites, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.
When you support these resources, you can use a hashtag. The easiest way to explain a hashtag is that it creates a way for you to see all of the posts people have created for your event. For example, our coalition has developed a hashtag for EVERY milk drive event. Have fun with it and add the year so you can keep track of which milk drive it was. We started calling our drive the NorCal milk drive when 5 counties participated. During the pandemic, our hashtag was virtual milk drive. The following paragraph is all of the hashtags for the two WABA campaigns:
#WBW2021 #WABA #ProtectBreastfeeding #SharedResponsibility #breastfeeding #SDGs #worldbreastfeedingweek2021 #ProtectBreastfeedingaSharedResponsibility #protectbreastfeedingtogether #buildingbackbetter #warmchain4breastfeeding #breastfeeding4publichealth
Since the year 2011, USBC developed National Breastfeeding Month. As of this writing, the theme has not been announced yet, but if you visit this webpage: USBC : NBM 2020 (usbreastfeeding.org), you can see all the resources that will be available for you to utilize. Last year’s theme was “Many Voices United” and each week had a theme: Week 1 (August 1-7): World Breastfeeding Week: Support Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet Week 2 (August 9-15): Native Breastfeeding Week: Strong. Resilient. Latched. Week 3 (August 16-24): Spotlight on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies Week 4 (August 25-31): Black Breastfeeding Week: Revive. Restore. Reclaim
The first week is always the World Breastfeeding Week theme, but now we have themes for each week of the month. The goal of my coalition was to focus on supporting all area World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month activities, and to sponsor and coordinate the program for Black Breastfeeding Week at the end of the month.
In 2020, this event was held virtually, breastfeeding awards that are usually provided in person were replaced by showcasing parents and their families throughout Black Breastfeeding Week on our Facebook page. In addition, to our announcement of Community Breastfeeding Month activities, there was a month-long virtual milk drive which resulted in 3000 ounces collected for the San Jose Milk Bank. Although we missed being able to meet with each other in person, our organizations still thrived by reaching out to the community virtually—and the community responded. Our virtual events were just as successful as our in-person events from previous years, and our coalition meetings have more attendance now than in other years.
Your organization can make World Breastfeeding Week or National Breastfeeding Month as big or as small as you like. However, it is helpful to be aware that virtual events are not as physically demanding as in-person events. More people can participate, and no one needs to leave their home. If you are not savvy with these virtual options, other IBCLCs are, and this is a great way to bring new enthusiastic IBCLCs or interns into the fold.
So, bottom line: Embrace the virtual world until we can hug each other again! Keep your organizations, World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month Thriving through this pandemic.
I have added photos of our Black Breastfeeding Week program and Gold Standard Award.
Debbie’s lactation story:
My story began with the birth of my first child, Joshua, 33 years ago. I was enthralled, but also realized that parents weren’t being taught very well. Back then the only real option was La Leche League. Between my first and second baby, I became a La Leche League Leader (1990) completed a Dissertation on Personality Characteristics and Breastfeeding Duration (1991), gave birth to my second son, David (1992). and became an IBCLC (1995).
I wanted to help more parents, and for a decade I worked in Corporate Lactation programs with Rona Cohen through MCH Services Inc. Rona is the main LC behind the research indicating that breastfeeding reduces employee absence and attrition. Rona encouraged me to become a nurse as well.
So, I returned to college to earn a nursing degree, and since then I have worked for 5 different hospitals in Florida, Texas, and California, participated in multiple breastfeeding coalitions and lactation boards and committees.
Over the past several years, my goal has been to pay it forward. I am the current President of the Sacramento Breastfeeding Coalition (SBC) and a member of the California Breastfeeding Coalition Board. I have mentored multiple Lactation Consultants. Just recently, I conducted SBC’s first IBCLC Study Group and every participant passed! I am a founding member of SBCs African American Subcommittee, and I am committed to fostering diversity in our profession. I currently work at Queen of the Valley in Napa, CA and Kaiser South Sacramento, CA.
The content of this post does not imply endorsement and may not reflect the position of USLCA.