Breastfeeding Doc's Tips Our Health

Theodore Jones, M.D.: The State of Breastfeeding, 2015

The National Medical Association’s Breastfeeding Medicine Alliance gears up for the next phase

The National Medical Association’s (NMA) Breastfeeding Medicine Alliance, established in 2014, has a healthy slate of programming set for this year’s NMA convention in Detroit. On the eve of the convention’s kickoff, Black Health Matters talked with Theodore Jones, M.D., director, Divisions of Maternal Fetal Medicine and Reproductive Genetics at Hutzel Women’s Hospital in Detroit, and the Breastfeeding Medicine Alliance’s section head, about what’s in store for this year’s session, which will take place August 5, from 8 a.m.-11 a.m.

Black Health Matters: What should attendees expect from this year’s breastfeeding programming?

Theodore Jones, M.D.: They should expect more exciting information and exposure to why it is so important to make sure that our patients think breastfeeding first. That is something that has been a part of our efforts over the last two years under the guidance of Dr. Victoria Green [director of Atlanta’s Grady Gynecology Comprehensive Breast Center] with our first Kellogg Foundation grant. She did a really wonderful job of making sure we did self evaluation to get a better sense of where we were as clinicians and as care providers in making sure patients think breastfeeding first. Not to mention we had this wonderful breastfeeding summit that occurred in Honolulu with two past surgeon generals talking about their commitment to breastfeeding.

We’re building upon that. We’re going to proceed on to what i think is the next step in this process, which is how do we take that information and motivation and translate it into some real action.

We’re going to talk about the Baby Friendly Initiative that is underway right now across the country, where hospitals are attempting to qualify for being designated as Baby Friendly, which means an institution is committed to breastfeeding for every woman who comes through their doors. It’s not an easy designation to achieve, but we have a real expert in that area, Dr. Paula Schreck, who is going to talk to us about her efforts at St. John’s Hospital in Detroit. She’s been the lead physician in their efforts to undergo that transition. She can talk about some of the challenges and rewards in making those changes.

There was a recent report that said hospitals in African-American communities were doing less to promote the benefits of breastfeeding, which could attribute to why our rates are lower than women of other races.

Dr. Jones: It’s not unique just to hospitals in communities of color. I’m at a hospital that too is challenged by that. They’ve decided not to get the Baby Friendly designation right now. What we hope is that after hearing about it and how others have been successful, including members of our own section, that people may go back with a renewed vitality to say, “Let’s take a look at this. Let’s see if we might be able to achieve this.”

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That’s the thing that’s exciting about this! While Baby Friendly is not easy to achieve, it is achievable. There are resources available to help an institution create the necessary infrastructure and technical assistance it needs to go through the process.

What other programming is on the docket?

Dr. Jones: Kiddada Green, founding executive director of the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association in Detroit—she worked with Dr. Schreck to create the community support for women who leave the hospital saying, “I do want to breastfeed, but don’t have the necessary support from family at home”—will discuss being able to be with peers who can provide support. That’s going to be critical to their success.

The next speaker, Kathi Barber, is an author who has written several books about aa women and bf from different vantage points, but the one we wanted to take advantage of is Lactation Management: Strategies for Working with African American Moms, the guide for lactating mothers who are going to return to the workplace. One of the things we all find really challenging these days is how does a mom who’s really committed to breastfeeding sustain her efforts in a world that is not really bending over backwards to help her be successful. The workplace becomes a big challenge, finding places where she can find privacy and quiet where she can pump. She’ll help us talk about those issues.

What about the part of the Affordable Care Act that mandates employers have to provide a private place for breastfeeding moms to pump?

Dr. Jones: [Silence] It’s not being enforced. The workplace should do a much better job of that. You can say something needs to happen, but if there are no consequences for it not happening, it won’t happen.

I understand you’re doing something unique with dads and breastfeeding.

Dr. Jones: Daryl Davidson, our last speaker, is a resident of Milwaukee who works with the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Alliance (there). [The Milwaukee Black Mothers Breastfeeding Alliance] started a very innovative fatherhood initiative that sought to have dads come to meetings where women were learning about breastfeeding and being supported in their efforts. They tried to support the men in the family in those efforts, talking about some of the challenges they may be dealing with and some of the opportunities they have to be supportive of the mothers in their lives. It’s a novel approach. It’s a relatively recent program, and he’s going to share with us some of their successes and some of their challenges.

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I thought it would add a very unique perspective to the conversation so members of our section will leave with a lot of different viewpoints about how to get where we want to get. But the goal is still the same: really making sure our moms understand how critically important it is to breastfeed and what a real missed opportunity it is if we don’t or if we do it for less than six months.

Why is this topic so important now?

Dr. Jones: Unless we figure out a way to reclaim the legacy of health for our kids, we’re going to continue to climb this uphill battle of trying to help African-American babies survive and live longer, healthier lives. And the moms have health benefits from breastfeeding as well. We want to claim all of those.

What can—and should—physicians do better to that end?

Dr. Jones: It has to be something we talk about with the same sort of enthusiasm and confidence that we talk about other health issues. Whether it’s things that are bad for patients, like alcohol and drugs, or things that are affecting our patient’s health, like heart disease and obesity, we talk with a pretty good amount of confidence and commitment. But we sometimes take breastfeeding for granted. If the patient does it, great, but if she doesn’t, it’s not that big a deal. We have to start emphasizing from the earliest time of seeing our patients, laying the groundwork for why breastfeeding is important. Let’s talk about it, let’s talk about how you do it successfully.

It is not easy for the busy practitioner with an office full of women to do this efficiently. It takes time. It takes effort. But we have to figure out a way to do that. We can’t keep making excuses.

As a community, we need to start thinking in terms of our community embracing breastfeeding again. It has to start being the norm again.

What are the next steps, after the convention?

Dr. Jones: The next steps are to give our members as many tools as possible in terms of the Baby Friendly Initiative. We also want to continue to develop materials they can use to raise awareness. I have posters in my office, and I don’t think i’m the only one. But i can go to lots of offices and there’s nothing about breastfeeding.

We also will be utilizing opportunities to take advantage of social media, to sharpen our message for both the docs and for our patients who follow us on different social media platforms. We have to do this in a way that’s user friendly, accessible and allows patients to really take advantage of the information that we provide for them.

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