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National Breastfeeding Month: Spotlight On The New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition

Ellen Maughan, JD, IBCLC, Co-president of the New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition

Editor’s Note: During the third week of National Breastfeeding Month, New Beginnings is turning the spotlight to breastfeeding coalitions. Breastfeeding coalitions play an important role in the changing landscape of breastfeeding with their advocacy efforts. There are State/Territorial, Tribal, Cultural and local coalitions across the country. If you are interested in learning about one in your area, check out the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) Coalitions Directory at www.usbreastfeeding.org/p/cm/ld/fid=44.


NJBC logoWhen families need breastfeeding help and information, they most often turn to local lactation supporters such as La Leche League Leaders, board certified lactation consultants, WIC peer counselors, breastfeeding educators, and health care providers. This one-to-one or group support is the first line of assistance to establish breastfeeding, and this personal care is the very heart of breastfeeding support and protection. Continued support and encouragement from these helpers assist families to meet their breastfeeding goals.

Breastfeeding coalitions serve a different role in breastfeeding support. They bring together these front line lactation supporters and other individuals to advocate for improved societal and systemic support for breastfeeding and lactation. Statewide breastfeeding coalitions act as central collaborative hubs that share information and coordinate actions among breastfeeding advocates and organizations, the health care sector, business, government, educators and community groups. Local breastfeeding coalitions draw together lactation supporters on a regional, county or municipal level to address breastfeeding issues in those localities.

The New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition (NJBC) was first established in 1988 as the New Jersey Breastfeeding Task Force by a small group of La Leche League Leaders and lactation consultants. The group became a coalition in 2011 that now includes international board certified lactation consultants (IBCLCs), La Leche League Leaders, physicians, nurses, WIC peer counselors, breastfeeding counselors, educators, doulas, community members, and other maternal child advocates. Its mission is to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding by acting collaboratively in New Jersey. NJBC’s vision is to normalize breastfeeding in New Jersey. The Coalition is a member of the United States Breastfeeding Committee where it participates in breastfeeding advocacy on a national level and shares information and practices with other state coalitions and other members.

Though most of its individual members do offer direct breastfeeding support and care, the Coalition does not provide direct lactation help services to families. Instead, it provides information and resources for both families and front line supporters to improve and promote breastfeeding across the state.  For example, the NJBC maintains the New Jersey ZipMilk database of lactation support that lists lactation consultants, La Leche League Groups, breastfeeding medicine physicians, WIC breastfeeding coordinators, and other community breastfeeding support. Through its website, the New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition (NJBC) also is the primary source of information on the state’s lactation legal protections including its public breastfeeding and workplace protection laws and regulations on the requirements for breastfeeding support in hospitals. Breastfeeding legal questions are the most common inquiries the NJBC receives from parents through the website. To foster better hospital-based lactation support, the NJBC catalyzed changes to the state hospital licensing standards in 2014 to require improved policies and practices in all New Jersey maternity hospitals and childbirth facilities.

Parents Holding Newborn Baby At Home In Loft ApartmentIn addition, the NJBC shares information on upcoming breastfeeding events such as World Breastfeeding Week and Black Breastfeeding Week activities, and the Coalition awards sponsorships for August breastfeeding events each year. The NJBC also funded the translation of a popular breastfeeding guide used throughout the state into nine other languages. Moreover, the Coalition has a worksite recognition program that recognizes employers who make accommodations for breastfeeding employees a priority at their sites.

The NJBC also partners with other organizations to change systems, environments, and policies to normalize breastfeeding across the state. Most recently, the Coalition partnered with the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) and the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium to draft a New Jersey Breastfeeding Strategic Plan. The strategic plan was submitted to the NJDOH for review this spring. Tracking the action steps of the United States Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, the plan will serve as a blueprint of concrete actions everyone in New Jersey can take to make New Jersey a breastfeeding-friendly state.

NJBC has sharpened its focus on addressing racial and ethnic disparities in breastfeeding rates in the state. Addressing these disparities is vitally important because Black and Hispanic persons suffer from a higher incidence of or are more likely to have poorer health outcomes from certain diseases that breastfeeding can lower the risk of, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and breast cancer. In addition, significant racial disparities exist in maternal and infant mortality in New Jersey. Increasing breastfeeding rates among Black families can help tackle these inequities. Eliminating racism in health care delivery and increasing the number of Black lactation consultants and counselors are two factors that can help reverse this alarming trend.

Toward this end, the NJBC recently sponsored a racial equity listening session to amplify voices on this important issue. The Coalition hopes to continue that conversation to explore solutions to racial and ethnic breastfeeding disparities and is striving to increase diversity in its membership. The NJBC has also prioritized support for people of color to become international board certified lactation consultants. To accomplish this, the Coalition has collected data and is developing a program to provide financial assistance and mentorships to IBCLC candidates of color.

The evidence is beyond debate that human milk is the optimal food for infants.  However, there still is much work to do to normalize breastfeeding and to make New Jersey a breastfeeding-friendly state. The New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition welcomes all who wish to join in these efforts to ensure that every family meets its breastfeeding goals!

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