“One of the most highly effective preventative measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant and herself is to breastfeed.”
— The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, 2011
As early childhood education professionals, we play an important role with families and their children. And as new families come to us for their child’s first early childhood education experience, we can set the stage for a wonderful relationship — from our first encounter — in the realm of breastfeeding.
Why do these moms need our support? According the CDC, 81% of moms desire to breastfeed. 76% of those moms start breastfeeding, and 60% will not feel they met their own breastfeeding goals (frequency or duration). Returning to work is the primary reason for ending breastfeeding. If babies are in an early learning environment, there is a shorter duration of breastfeeding.
Our support and willingness to work with individual moms and their breastfeeding needs can make all the difference!
We’ve all heard the statistics on why breastfeeding is good for babies: decreases in ear and respiratory infections, lower rates of SIDS, lower risk of both type 1 and 2 diabetes, and 24% lower likelihood of becoming obese. And don’t forget the benefits for mom too! Given all of these stats, why would we not want to support families who choose to continue nursing their children while they are in our care?
Here are some tips for supporting breastfeeding families in an early childhood program:
Is breastfeeding addressed in your welcome packet? If not, there are several great ways to let families know that your program welcomes breastfeeding! Include images of babies nursing in your facility. Add books in your reading center on babies nursing — both human and animals! These are simple things to add, if you are not already including them as a first step. The Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics have lots of flyers and educational materials available to support families and their breastfeeding choices. You may want to have a resource list of local breastfeeding support groups. La Leche League, Breastfeeding USA, WIC, International Board of Certified Lactation Consultants, Baby Friendly Hospitals and other community organizations are some examples.
Think about your training and processes.
Reach out to your local child care resource and referral team for help as you develop a breastfeeding system for milk storage and feeding for your staff. Be sure your infant teachers are comfortable processing, rotating and warming breast milk. That way, none of the precious food is mishandled. Staff should be able to quickly articulate the process to families, so that everyone is comfortable and secure with the system. At staff training, be sure to include the importance of recognizing hunger cues and always feeding babies when they are hungry, rather than on a schedule. Mothers should be encouraged to come to your facility and feed babies during the day, as they desire. Lunch breaks or immediately at pick-up time are great times for visits. The infant’s feeding plan should include and clearly state those kinds of specific family choices.
Remember: The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) supports breastfeeding. Meals fed to infants on site by either mom or staff are reimbursable.
Look at your set up and identify a breastfeeding area.
It doesn’t need to be fancy! The space should include a comfortable chair, soft lighting, a small table and an outlet to plug in a breast pump. Some moms are comfortable nursing in a more open setting, while others want privacy. A screen or curtain can provide privacy if your space does not include a closed-door option. Be sure to have adequate refrigerator and freezer space for storing the milk, as well.
Our commitment to helping children grow and thrive begins from our very first encounter with a prospective family. Supporting families in their choices for feeding their baby can set the stage for a healthy life!