MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) — August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. It’s meant to call attention to what the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) considers the foundation of lifelong health and wellness.
Northern District Medical Officer and pediatrician Dr. Wes Stubblefield identifies consistent breastfeeding as a big need for babies’ development.
“This has been a focus for a long time,” Stubblefield told News 19. “We know the challenges we have in Alabama in terms of our breastfeeding rates. We know the medical benefits of breastfeeding. And we want people – parents, mothers, those that are trying to make that decision – to know that you have to have all that information.”
One resource that offers information and support is Tennessee Valley Lactation Support, which Sarah Willis co-owns.
“We see a lot of parents with things like engorgement and mastitis. We’ve got babies that aren’t latching. We’ve got moms with nipple pain. That’s a really big trigger for most of our parents,” Willis said.
First-time mom Kirsten McCollum said she didn’t know where else to turn for postpartum help with her newborn triplets before she came to Willis’s office.
“She was incredibly helpful,” McCollum said. “She was able to give me a plan for, ‘Here’s what we’re gonna do. How much milk are you making now? How can we get your supply to increase so we can then make sure that your girls are getting enough?'”
Willis explains that as much good as ADPH does to boost its Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program, especially in light of baby formula shortages, a key stat remains.
“At least 69% of parents are choosing to try to breastfeed. However, when we get to the age of 12 months for that baby, that statistic drops down to 21% of those babies being breastfed,” she said. “It’s wonderful that we have formula for those babies. But if we can increase the breastfeeding support so that we have less need for the formula, we’ve got more formula for the babies and the moms that actually need it.”
“The fact that so many women don’t breastfeed I think, is largely due to the fact that we don’t have the kind of support that we really need,” McCollum said. “I was fortunate to have the resources to be able to work with Sarah, but a lot of people do not have that. And I think that’s really sad.”
Another hurdle Willis said she faces with her center is that many health insurance providers decline to cover clinics like hers, despite being included in the Affordable Care Act. She said she hopes Alabama and Tennessee state legislators will take notice.