Improving Health Outcomes: The Benefits of Lactation Consultants within the Community
The state of maternal and infant health in America has become a concern for many people in the last five years. Common maternal and child health issues include disparities in breastfeeding rates. The benefits of breastfeeding are widely known and have received an influx of support and promotion from medical organizations and legislators alike. However, many families can face barriers to initiating and maintaining breastfeeding. Some of these barriers include a lack of knowledge about breastfeeding; a lack of peer, family, and social support; and challenges navigating breastfeeding and employment. The CDC reports over eighty percent of families initiate breastfeeding, but that rate declines by over one-third at one, three, and six months post-initiation of breastfeeding among families, alluding to the need for additional support. In particular, additional support should focus on Black mothers with the lowest breastfeeding rates among all racial groups in North Carolina. Black infants are 2-3 times more likely than white babies to die in their first year. One contributing factor to infant mortality is that black infants are disproportionately born too small, too sick, or too soon. However, the CDC shows that increased breastfeeding among Black women could decrease infant mortality rates by as much as 50%.
The North Carolina Black Alliance recognizes the importance of breastfeeding and the barriers many Black mothers face. As of April 2023, NCBA launched the inaugural cohort of future lactation counselors as a part of our project to promote lactation in Eastern North Carolina. The project aims to address racial disparities in breastfeeding rates in Black communities in Eastern and rural North Carolina through increased representation of Black lactation counselors. Lactation counselors are peers from the community who choose to specialize in breastfeeding management through training and certifications. Breastfeeding is a learned and practiced skill, and many moms find it helpful to have a “coach” who understands their concerns. Research shows that people are more likely to trust those who look like them. Representation matters for Black families seeking support with breastfeeding. Lactation counselors are educated healthcare professionals who receive training and hands-on education to help guide moms on their breastfeeding journey.
Benefits of Lactation Counselors
- peer-to-peer support
- science-guided practices
- prenatal and postpartum support
The benefits of breastfeeding are not confined to the infant but to mothers and their community too. Breast milk provides infants with ideal nutrition and supports development and growth. Parents that choose to breastfeed also reduce their risk of breast cancer, Type-2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. By supporting breastfeeding dyads, communities are exalting the importance of a healthy start in life.
Health Equity Fellow