ADRIENNE WAHL

Neosho County is now one of the 24 counties that have received the Community Supporting Breastfeeding designation from the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition, Inc. 

The designation was presented by Brenda Bandy, the executive director of the KBC, which is a statewide nonprofit that works to promote breastfeeding by helping those that provide clinical support to breastfeeding moms. 

The Community Supporting Breastfeeding designation was created in 2014. According to Bandy, they designed the program around a vision of what a “breastfeeding utopia” would look like. 

“We were imagining for a moment if there was such a community that existed where everything was in place and that breastfeeding was the norm and was supported,” she said. “What would that look like? What would families experience? How would it be different?”

To be such a community, the KBC determined six criteria: a local breastfeeding coalition or support group for breastfeeding moms; an area hospital with the “high five for mom and baby” that is a state designation for the hospital; local businesses where breastfeeding is welcomed; employers that are designated as breastfeeding friendly; and a percentage of childcare providers in the area that have been certified to be supportive of breastfeeding. 

Bandy said that Neosho County went above and beyond in procuring the designation. 

“They went above and beyond. If we could give ‘community supporting plus’ Neosho County would have it,” she said. 

“They took the six criteria and wove them together in this supportive net. There is Cardinal (drugstore) that coordinates pump rentals and purchases, there are 28 breastfeeding-friendly clinics in the state and Chanute has one in Ashley Clinic.”

International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Stephanie Henry, who is the coordinator for the breastfeeding services of the Neosho County Health Department, spearheaded the efforts to earn the designation, along with her colleague Alisha Turner who oversees child care certification and Maternal Child Health visits. It took them just under six months to receive the designation. 

“I felt like the systems were in place (to receive the designation),” Henry said. “We just needed to push it farther to bridge the gaps. We just put it in the forefront and bring awareness. We were already doing it, we just didn’t have the designation.” 

There are now 16 breastfeeding-friendly businesses in Chanute that are designated by a window cling.

“If a mom needs to nurse or pump, she will be able to go to that business and be welcome there,” Henry said.

In addition to the 16 businesses, Henry said that Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center, Labette Health and Allen County Hospital were all recognized by the state as being breastfeeding-supportive hospitals. There are three new employers in the area that have become breastfeeding-friendly and there is also a lactation room available in the Memorial Building for mothers during events there. 

Henry said the largest challenge was getting child care providers trained, but Turner was instrumental in getting the word out, with 34 of 52 childcare providers in the area being breastfeeding-infant friendly. Turner said that she promoted it heavily to providers, as it was a free training that would count toward their required educational hours. 

“It really helps parents know it is a breastfeeding facility (and) they know how to care for a breastfed baby,” Turner said. 

Turner explained that the childcare aspect was an important one because going back to work for breastfeeding moms often poses one of the largest challenges. 

“As a mother that breastfed and has worked with other moms, it is important that there is the qualified care for those babies that nurse,” Turner said. “90 percent of moms want to breastfeed, but those moms need to know when they go back to work, they are getting the support.” 

Henry was proud of the community for being so supportive of the efforts to normalize breastfeeding, which studies show has lasting impacts on the health of both the mother and child, in addition to strengthening the economy from saving healthcare expenses and promoting a healthier environment with less post-consumer waste from formula tins. Kansas could save an estimated $27 million in health care costs and prevent an excess of seven infant deaths and 22 maternal deaths per year if breastfeeding were scaled up. 

“Being out in the community and hearing all of the stories of moms being helped,” she said, “connecting the dots for them with pro-breastfeeding daycares, businesses and employers normalizing breastfeeding. The results were even above my expectation level. Keeping all those families in a bubble of love for that breastfeeding support is an amazing thing.” 

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