Home > Highlights from Kansas Attendees of the 2021 USBC National Breastfeeding Conference

Danielle Ast: I was fortunate to get to attend the 2021 USBC virtual conference, Ready for Anything: Rising & Thriving Breastfeeding Communities in the Face of Uncertainty. The conference had many wonderful speakers encouraging diversity, inclusion, and equity in First Foods. Nekisha Killings presentation “It Could All Be So Different: Addressing the Chasm of Image Diversity in Lactation” really made me think about my ability to support and help women of color; when she talked about how less than 10% of images in textbooks are of non-white breasts and how even clinically trained dermatologists are challenged diagnosing common skin problems in people with color. As lactation professionals, we need to demand more representation of different skin colors in resources and work to educate ourselves as much as possible. Our professional institutions need to set a standard for minimum base knowledge for lactation credentials and a standard for the minimum number of images in resource materials that show women of color breasts. [NOTE from KBC: Nekisha Killings will be a featured speaker at the 2021 Kansas Breastfeeding Conference, Oct. 28-29.  Registration HERE]

Cheryl Valdez: When a woman has a baby, she immediately is faced with many decisions. These decisions include, where to send the child to daycare, what kind of diapers to use, or which doctor to take them to. One of the most important decisions is whether or not to breastfeed. Doctors and nurses around the country suggest that breastfeeding has many benefits. These benefits are not only beneficial for the baby, but also for the mother. In conclusion Breastfeeding is the best start in Life It is very important for infants to be breastfeed, for the first zero-six months of life. It provides all the nutrients and water need for a healthy baby. Infants are more likely to eat more on breast milk.

Stephanne Rupnicki: Hello, my name is Stephanne Rupnicki and I’m the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition, Board of Directors Chair. I was honored to be able to attend this year’s 2021 USBC Conference and Convening that was held virtually through the Whova Platform. This was my second time attending, with my 1st time being in 2018 when I received a Tribal Trailblazer Award.

This year’s conference was packed with vital information that was wrapped around the topic Covid and how we navigated through this past year and half in regards to lactation and general health. The message I got from the sessions I attended was how we need to improve patient care through pandemics, because let’s be honest this most likely won’t be the last unfortunately and we never know when the next one will happen but we need to be better prepared. We need to be able to advocate for our clients’ rights to the health care they need not just physically but mentally.

The barriers faced from patients especially those that are of BIPOC was heartbreaking. The lack of being accommodating was extremely unfair to mothers and their families. This echoed heavily in sessions and in the comments from attendees  from the USBC conference. Mothers weren’t able to have their support person with them during OB appointments, and again during labor and delivery as well this also includes not being able to have a Doula.  Separation of mother and baby during the golden hour was taken away as well. Mothers weren’t able to bring their babies and or other children to their postpartum health check-ups, which is unfathomable. This potential created mental health issues and trauma not to mention a possible decrease in initiation and duration with breastfeeding!

Another word highly echoed throughout the conference was resilience. Despite the setbacks, lack of care and everything in between from Coronavirus, we will overcome and we will be stronger because we are Resilient! New ways to make patient and client care more streamlined is vital and this was discussed as well in sessions this year.

I’m so glad I was able to learn from these presenters, their sessions and take back new gained knowledge that I will utilize myself as well as sharing with others. I hope I’ll be able to attend next year’s USBC conference and encourage everyone to attend if able.

Ahkeya Howard – I don’t know what I expected when I signed up to attend the 2021 USBC National Breastfeeding Conference & Convening.  I guess I figured it would be the normal breastfeeding 101 type of conference but I loved the way this conference went deeper and highlighted how we can actually change communities through our work.  I was so inspired by the stories of individuals creating solutions and programs to help their community like the Mamatoto model, the community gardens that provided food to families and a chance to educate mothers, the community that came together to donate money to create a community birthing center and the safer feeding formula kits after hurricane Laura.  I was moved by the energy and wisdom shared during the conference.  I left the conference feeling as if I could do more… As if I needed to do more.  I also left the conference a fan of the Bengsons.

Mandy Chapin – Resilience and healing were a common theme I noted during the USBC National Breastfeeding Conference of 2021.   The definition of resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.  This definition hit home thinking about all the new mommas and what they go through with newborns every day.   

Things that I learned and/or made me stop and reflect on:  

•  We, as lactation support people, are nurturing the nurturers.   

•  African Americans are less likely to seek mental health help due to under diagnosing or over medicating; 

•  Being a new mom is hard; being a new mom in the middle of a pandemic is hard; being a black mom in the middle of a pandemic is extra hard;  

•  Indigenous people often view their milk as a sacred first food, as ancestral medicine and view themselves as medicine keepers.  Breastfeeding has been recorded in their history, depicted in their art and heard in their songs; 

•  Having an emergency infant feeding plan is necessary and very important.

Cara Gerhardt – This year’s USBC Conference challenged attendees to confront bias and disparities both in opportunities for meeting breastfeeding goals and to participate in local leadership.   Ideas for action steps to improve support and access within communities were abundant, and included:

  • Ensuring that leadership within the community reflects the population being served. Our own Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition serves as a wonderful example of this!
  • Incorporating mental health into our support of all families and recognizing the ways that mental health can affect meeting breastfeeding goals.
  • Preparing a comprehensive public health plan that includes disaster relief and emergency preparedness, with a focus on training emergency workers and making available emergency feeding kits, particularly for at-risk populations.
  • Recognizing and addressing barriers to meeting breastfeeding goals within specific communities, with those barriers being ones identified by those most affected.

Reflecting on each of these challenges inspires many ideas for change.  As coalitions across the state work towards Community Supporting Breastfeeding or CSB Plus designation, I encourage them to keep these points in mind to ensure long-term success in improving health outcomes. 

Mallory Pope – I learned that I definitely fit into the category of white privilege…. When before the conference, I would have argued differently. Until the middle of my third-grade year, I grew up in Kansas City, KS. We did not live in a great neighborhood- at all. In my school there were only a handful of white children. I don’t remember ever being necessarily treated differently because of my skin color, but I do remember that sometimes each race kind of congregated together at recess, lunch, etc. I look back now and wonder how much of that was a natural response versus environmental and I just don’t know. I never remember my mom or my grandparents urging me to stay with the other white kids, but I do know they were the only ones to stay over at our house. I don’t remember even knowing about racism at that point. And this bothers me because now I can clearly admit that my grandparents and my mom are very much racist… unfortunately. (Whether this is something that has always been engrained or something that they’ve “learned,” I don’t know) But I digress. My mom met my stepfather and moved us up to Hiawatha Kansas to start the spring semester of my third-grade year. And let me tell you, I have never felt so out of place. I did not know the kids played sports. I never knew there was such a thing as public swimming pools. For whatever reason, my mom chose to never expose those things to me. When I bring it up now, she kind of glides over it without much of an answer. This is a small community and everybody had their friendships and I had a tough time fitting in. I remember getting made fun of because of the way I dressed or the way I talked. So, thanks to white privilege, I truly thought this experience (my whole childhood) gave me insight into how minorities felt. And the conference sort of opened my eyes as to how wrong that idea was. The prejudice I felt at times is nothing compared to the prejudice some have felt since literally the moment of their birth. From the inequality in how their moms were treated with prenatal care or of course, help with breastfeeding. As much as I felt like I was in the corner for some of these movements like black lives matter, I learned that my way of thinking was completely wrong. I haven’t done the work that is simply requested of us. Posting Facebook articles applauding Biden for the changes he is trying to make isn’t enough. Saying the name Breanna Taylor isn’t enough. I am not doing enough. And this applies to race, LGBTQ, etc. I cannot continue to sit here and claim to be all about equality while at the same time being completely complacent. I noticed small things like the pronouns listed besides the attendees’ names. Why didn’t I think of that? Why wasn’t I normalizing that right along with them? I left the conference feeling disappointed in myself to be honest. And I’m still kind of disappointed in myself almost 2 months later because I haven’t done anything differently. It’s almost like I’m waiting for someone to tell me what to do and how to do it. It’s a difficult feeling that once you realize you really don’t know how the other side feels, your kind of lost on how to fix it. The things that I felt like made me “good,” made me a cheerleader, aren’t going to cut it. I did learn though that the best thing to do is listen and that’s what I am trying to do now. I raise my children to love everybody and I am super proud of my 12-year-old daughter who has friends that identify as different genders and she is one of very few who accept they/them and that makes my heart swell with joy. I may not have it all figured out, but I know I am passing down more open mindedness to my children and hopefully that’s a step in the right direction.

Morgan Carnagie – A portion of the conference that stuck out for me was access for breastfeeding resources during disasters. In my current role I deal a lot with safety and disaster planning. The idea of having kits available to ease the burden of breastfeeding mothers and ensure maximal nutrition seems like a no-brainer and yet I hadn’t thought of something like this before. Looking at breastfeeding help and education from more than just a direct feeding standpoint (financial, emergencies, sickness, work/school,  family) is so key and helpful to empowering mothers to continue feeding despite adversity. Moving forward in my own career and practice, I feel more educated on to serve lactating women during these times.

Tamara Payne – The USBC conference covered a lot of great information. What stuck the most was the support pregnant women not having enough support during a pandemic. It’s our current reality, as we are still living in a pandemic and women are being stripped of support having to go to doctors’ appointments alone & limiting guests while going through labor. Pregnancy is a beautiful thing but it is no walk in the park, not being able to share those special sonogram moments with your support person. Helping moms get the support they need is crucial to having a healthy pregnancy.

Gina Slayden – I would like to thank you for providing me with the stipend to attend the 2021 National Breastfeeding Conference. I would like to share with you a personal experience related to many topics included in this year’s conference related to diversity, inclusion and minorities. Sylvia has given written consent to share her comments as well as photos of herself and baby Ellis. 

I first met Sylvia about 9 months ago during the Becoming A Mom class offered by our hospital here in Emporia, KS. Although I did not know at the time of the class, the impact it would have on Sylvia.

In April, I got the privilege to work with Sylvia and Ellis after delivery, providing breastfeeding assistance and education throughout her hospital stay. Sylvia and Ellis continue to receive on going support through our outpatient breastfeeding clinic held bi-weekly. 

Sylvia is from the country of Uganda. She has been in the United States for three years after marrying her husband, David.

Sylvia shared what it is like having a baby in Uganda and how little breastfeeding education is provided to new mothers, “Most new mothers go home the same day after delivery if it was not complicated. Education regarding breastfeeding is provided by a family member such as a mother or sister. There are no lactation consultants to help you after you have the baby. A large percentage of women in Uganda do start out breastfeeding, but if it does not work well formula is expensive and money can be an issue for many people.”

Sylvia is grateful for all of the education she has received here in the U.S., from the Becoming A Mom class to lactation support during hospitalization and ongoing lactation support through our outpatient breastfeeding clinic.

She believes that the Becoming A Mom class helped her decide that breastfeeding was best for her.  She feels she has been successful with breastfeeding for having the support of her husband David, in addition to the ongoing support she receives through the outpatient breastfeeding clinic. “Being able to come in and ask questions has been what has kept me going”.

Sylvia is the only African-American that attends our outpatient breastfeeding clinic. Sylvia reported feeling  welcome, supported and included. That was exactly what I wanted for Sylvia and Ellis, to feel welcome and included.          

To end, I would like to stress that ongoing lactation education and support is so critical to ensure that all new mothers get the help they need to continue breastfeeding. They need to feel valued, supported and included. The importance of education to minorities and to countries around the world is definitely needed.

Gina, Syliva, and Ellis

Thank you for the information provided in this conference and a big thank you to all of you who work hard every day to provide breastfeeding education to others. You may not see it, but your job is changing the world.