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As World Breastfeeding Week 2020 begins, we find ourselves living in a world that has been disrupted by a global pandemic, which more severely impacts people with underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. A burgeoning racial justice movement is holding a magnifying glass to health disparities caused by systemic racism, which contribute to the disproportionate presence of these same chronic health conditions among Black, Indigenous, and people of color, making them more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Birthing people are encountering new challenges accessing the support they need for breastfeeding success, as our health and social service systems reconfigure themselves to avoid the risk of infection to clients and providers.

There has never been a more important time to support breastfeeding, the biologically normal form of sustenance for human babies. When we support breastfeeding, we’re strengthening babies and families during a critical life stage, resulting in life-long impacts on their health and wellbeing. Feeding at the breast/chest reduces the risk of many childhood illnesses and chronic disease, fosters parent/infant bonding, and forms the foundation of a sustainable food system. 

Yet most birthing parents struggle to meet their own breastfeeding goals, let alone reach the medically recommended milestone of six months of exclusive breastfeeding followed by continued breastfeeding for one year or as long as the breastfeeding dyad desires. Barriers include lack of paid family leave and workplace support, cultural norms, insufficient education of care providers, a shortage of culturally relevant lactation support, and formula advertising. 

Last year, Nurture won a Healthy Communities Action Team grant to support the continued work of #RVAbreastfeeds, a coalition effort that has its roots in the 2011 Mayor’s Breastfeeding Commission. The three-year grant began July 1 and centers on moving the City of Richmond toward achieving the Breastfeeding Family Friendly Community (BFFC) designation as outlined in the 10-step framework developed by Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute for the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action. This framework is currently being piloted in North Carolina and in the Hampton Roads Region in Virginia. 

Formal partners for this initiative include Nurture, Birth in Color RVA, cBe Consulting, Richmond City WIC, Richmond Resource Mothers, Richmond City Health District, VCU Health CenteringPregnancy®, the Virginia Department of Health, and several community members who are breastfeeding parents.

Our goal, which aligns with state, national, and international recommendations, is to implement a grassroots to treetops approach that includes reaching out to local elected officials and health department leaders to secure their support, recruiting key champions to assume leadership for components of the BFFC 10 Steps framework, and developing a three-year strategic plan for the BFFC initiative.

Changing the environment for breastfeeding is a complex and long-term endeavor, requiring advocacy from multiple sectors, including elected and appointed leadership, health care systems, the business community, and the community at large. The current initiative is built on the efforts of countless advocates and volunteers who came together nine years ago because they knew that breastfeeding forms a solid foundation for healthy children, families, and communities, and that we can’t stop until ALL families have the support they need to ensure the healthiest possible launch into life. 

We hope that you will add your weight to their efforts to help build a more just, equitable, and supportive environment for Richmond’s newest families. If you are interested in becoming a part of this initiative, please email info@nurturerva.org. You will be added to the coalition mailing list to keep you in the loop as we begin planning our next steps. 

And please join us on Facebook and Instagram from August 1 – August 7 as we join advocates from across the planet to celebrate the 2020 World Breastfeeding Week theme, Support Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet

Together we can create the community in which we want to live in the 21st Century. 

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