State awards funds for breast-feeding groups in Rangely; Meeker is later

RANGELY I A breast-feeding support group cosponsored by the Rio Blanco County Women, Infant and Children (WIC) office and Rangely District Hospital (RDH) held its first meeting last week for expectant and nursing mothers in Rangely.
The group, funded in December by a $5,350 Colorado WIC Breast-feeding Supportive Communities special projects grant, will provide speakers, educational resources and personal and professional support to mothers considering breast-feeding or who are currently breast-feeding, WIC educator and project coordinator Mary Dillon said. The grant will also fund a breast-feeding group startup in Meeker in the next two months.
Fifteen agencies statewide received WIC grant monies with organizations proposing to partner with other contributing agencies given priority, award letters stated. In addition to RDH and WIC collaborating to support breast-feeding — RDH registered nurse Tanja Saunders will help lead the support group — Dillon hopes other local organizations, like New Eden Pregnancy Care Services and the Rangely Moms group, will find ways to get involved.
“From my perspective, whenever community resources are pooled together, the entire community benefits,” Dillon said. “This isn’t just a job for most of us. It’s a commitment to the community.”
The grant award letter from Jennifer Dellaport, the state WIC Program breast-feeding coordinator, stated that the review committee liked Dillon’s proposal to eventually provide 24-hour support to nursing women via volunteers and professionals involved with the support group. Until nurses receive lactation management training via WIC in April, though, Dillon said she’s willing to be available whenever mothers have questions or concerns.
Colorado has a history of support for breast-feeding, with the fourth-highest percentage nationwide of mothers who have ever breast-fed, at 89.1 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control’s 2013 Breast-feeding Report Card. More than 56 percent of Colorado mothers still breast-feed their infants at six months, the 10th-highest ranking in the country and just a few percentage points shy of the federal government’s Healthy People 2020 initiative to have 60 percent of mothers still nursing after six months.
Dillon said collaborative efforts like the breast-feeding support group can help Rio Blanco County come abreast of state trends.
“We have so many moms here who are craving support and education,” Dillon said. “I think we have a great start with New Eden and the (Rangely) Moms group. Now we just need to be able to reach more moms.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics and La Leche League International have long touted the benefits of breast milk for babies. But cultural trends — like the practice of feeding infants tainted cows’ milk in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, resulting in skyrocketing infant mortality rates — along with stigmas around breast-feeding and hit-and-miss public education campaigns kept the percentages of breast-feeding mothers in the 20s until the early 1970s.
A surge in breast-feeding in the 1970s paralleled the women’s health reform movement, pushing breast-feeding rates up an average of 3 percent per year throughout the decade. But by the mid-1980s, rates of mothers who initiated breast-feeding or nursed their babies at least once before leaving the hospital, had declined, leading government agencies and private organizations to collaborate on educating mothers, particularly minority and poor women, about the advantages of breast-feeding to themselves and their children.
Now, more than two decades later, the focus is on factors proven to increase the likelihood of breast-feeding initiation and duration: giving mothers training and support at the centers or hospitals where they give birth; providing access to volunteer and professional help after they come home; and offering continued support in work and childcare settings as babies grow.
Dillon said the Rio Blanco County support groups will focus on initiation and duration by providing resources via a breast-feeding “library” bought by grant dollars, giving women access to lactation consultants at Saint Mary’s Hospital when they need extra help and offering a space for mothers to encourage each other in their efforts.
Weekly sessions, held in Rangely District Hospital’s conference room from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, will teach mothers topics ranging from sleep and mothers’ and babies’ nutritional needs to physical changes mothers undergo while nursing.
Dillon, who attended a Glenwood Springs breast-feeding support group with daughter Jessica and then-newborn grandson Jack in October, said the help her daughter and other women received from the group was tremendous.
“I realized that someone who doesn’t have support is really set up for failure,” she said. “It’s one of those things. If you know somebody else is breast-feeding who’s going through the same thing, it keeps you wanting to stick with (nursing), too.”
WIC and RDH are required to spend the special project grant funds for Rio Blanco County breast-feeding support groups by June, after which time Dillon plans for the groups to be self-supporting.