Most people are in favor of breastfeeding. The challenge for advocates and healthcare providers these days is making sure those who want information or help know it’s available.
Lisa Underhill, a registered nurse and certified lactation consultant, is among those who want the Rutland community to know how much local support there is for breastfeeding.
Underhill works at Rutland Women’s Healthcare, an affiliate of Rutland Regional Medical Center. She and other breastfeeding experts were at The Loop on Saturday for the second annual World Breastfeeding Week Walk, an informal event aimed at raising local awareness of breastfeeding support efforts.
The Loop is a walking path on the hospital’s campus. Relatively low temperatures and clear skies made for a pleasant afternoon for those who chose to show up and walk The Loop in support of breastfeeding.
World Breastfeeding Week began Aug. 1 and goes to Aug. 7. The first one was in 1991. Globally, it’s organized by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action.
Underhill said women and families have several options when it comes to learning about breastfeeding in Rutland County.
“Some people just want a lot of information beforehand,” she said. “There’s a breastfeeding class that’s offered at the hospital twice a month, so that’s a great place for women and partners, and any support people, to go and really get a lot of information on the basics of breastfeeding.”
In addition to Rutland Women’s Healthcare and the hospital, the Department of Health was also at the walk.
Ashley Godzik is a public nutritionist for the Vermont Department of Health assigned to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). She said about 76% of mothers using WIC in Rutland County breastfeed.
While many mothers breastfeed, and public support for it is high, not all go that route.
“It can be challenging,” said Underhill. “That’s part of the reason we want to make sure families know there’s help available and bring awareness to the community that creates an environment that enables moms to be successful.”
For those who want to breastfeed but can’t, the main obstacles are milk production, pain and lack of time with the child, said Underhill.
“I think one of the biggest ones is if moms are returning to work or going to school, that can be challenging,” she said.
Lisa Velasquez, a private lactation consultant volunteering at the walk, agreed, saying many mothers don’t breastfeed because they have to return to work too soon.
She said Vermont is one of the more supportive states for breastfeeding.
“Vermont has passed some good legislation to support women and families with breastfeeding,” Velasquez said. “We beat the (Affordable Care Act) by a number of years as far as the accommodations pieces.”
She said a 2008 law passed by the Legislature supported breastfeeding mothers returning to work, and subsequent legislation has tackled discrimination.
“Any place a mother is allowed to be legally, she can breastfeed her baby,” said Velasquez.
There are still steps the Legislature could take to further support breastfeeding families.
“We’d like them to license our profession so that we, lactation consultants, can provide clinical support to families in our communities,” she said. “Right now, Rutland County does not have any kind of professional-level lactation care available to women covered by Medicaid insurance, which covers a lot of our population.”
Breastfeeding is considered to be a healthier option over formula, said Underhill.
“As far as the health benefits for [the] baby, there’s decreased incidence of respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, ear infections, so overall they tend to get ill less frequently because of the antibodies that are naturally present in breast milk,” she said.
Information on breastfeeding can be found on the websites of Rutland Women’s Healthcare, https://www.rrmc.org/locations/profile/rutland-womens-healthcare/ and the Vermont Department of Health, https://www.healthvermont.gov/breastfeeding.