It’s déjà vu for me today, Leakies.
Last year, right around this time, I wrote an article for this very site about how a representative was proposing that we removing funding from the WIC breastfeeding peer counselor program, The High Life of a WIC BReastfeeding Counselor. That was struck down, and quickly, but sadly enough, threats to the program loom again.
In case you don’t know what the breastfeeding peer counselor program is, it’s an awesome program at WIC where breastfeeding or former breastfeeding moms are hired and thoroughly trained to provide breastfeeding advice and support. In fact, our training is so awesome and the program is so respected that the organization that tests people to become registered lactation consultants, IBLCE, allows it as one of the few ways to gather the hands on hours required to take the examination. The program helps both new moms and moms-to-be with a variety of breastfeeding issues. We teach classes, we do one-on-one counseling, and we assess moms and babies who are having issues. We can catch issues early and fix them or refer to someone who can. We run support groups and work with businesses and hospitals to make the community a more supportive place for women who do choose to breastfeed. We run warmlines. Some of us do home or hospital visitations. Many of us are IBCLCs. What we do, in a private practice setting, would cost you a LOT of money. Yet, for the women who qualify for WIC, these services are totally free.
And although we are all breastfeeding advocates, we’re not going to force you to breastfeed or look down on you if you don’t. We will encourage you and help you, but we will not force our goals or ideals on you, and we will not look down on you if you don’t breastfeed for as long as we would or in the way that we would or even at all. There’s something pretty amazing, though, about seeing a new mom who really, really wants to breastfeed, so incredibly tired and sore and unhappy and on the verge of giving up light up when she is given the tools needed to make things work for her. And these tools are sadly unavailable in many other places. Many doctors aren’t all the breastfeeding savvy. Hospitals that have lactation consultants often only have them there part time, or they are too overbooked to give moms the time that they need. La Leche League meetings can be at times that a new mom can’t manage – especially if she’s also working.
Money for breastfeeding support within WIC was already cut once this year. This is pretty sad, given that the Surgeon General’s call to action to support breastfeeding was issued just a year ago. We know the numerous benefits of breastfeeding, and we know that while so many moms want to breastfeed, a significant amount simply aren’t meeting their goals. Mother to mother support is proven to be a huge help. And when that support is trained and qualified to bust myths and give realistic advice while not being judgmental, that’s even better.
A House subcommittee yesterday passed a bill for funding for WIC that has no money earmarked for peer counselors. That, combined with the lowered budget overall, means that a lot of ladies will be losing their jobs and a lot of moms will be losing what might be the only education and support they have for breastfeeding. While my office is amazing and everyone is supportive of breastfeeding and decently educated, and while I believe that WIC has taken steps to ensure that is the norm, there are many agencies that only maintain a counselor because that money is earmarked. The peer counselor in those offices may be the only person there well versed in breastfeeding and holding the solutions to common issues. If we take her away, there will be a lot of moms that switch to formula – not because they want to, but because they feel like they have no choice in the matter.
So why should you care?
Well, if you believe that women should be supported in their breastfeeding endeavors, you want breastfeeding peer counselors to keep their funding. If you are someone who doesn’t care about breastfeeding but wants government spending to decrease, then you want breastfeeding peer counselors to keep their jobs. You see, we help women to be healthier and have healthier babies, which translates into less money spent on state insurance and less spent on purchasing formula. If you’re a business owner or manager, you want us to keep our funding, because by helping moms to keep breastfeeding and continuing to confer that specifically tailored immune protection, your employees’ babies are at their optimal health, and your employees will be at work more often, increasing productivity.
I urge you to sign this petition and consider letting your elected officials know that cutting funding to this program is ridiculous and short-sighted. It may save some money short term, but it will have significant consequences long term.
Star Rodriguiz, IBCLC, is a breastfeeding peer counselor for a WIC in the Midwest and has just started her private practice as an IBCLC (her Facebook page is here, go “like” for great support). She also sits on the breastfeeding task force in her town, is helping her community’s Early Head Start redefine their breastfeeding support, and is the driving force behind a local breastfeeding campaign. In the remainder of her free time, she chases around her nursling and preschooler.