Despite public health consensus of its benefit, Mississippi has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the nation. To help increase breastfeeding support, the Mississippi Public Health Institute (MSPHI) is starting a new program to increase awareness and direct support for breastfeeding programs.

The Making an Impact in the Lactation Community, or MILC program, is specifically focused on communities of color on the Gulf Coast and in the Delta.

Mississippi Today recently spoke with Tennille Collins, REACH Program Manager at MSPHI, about the MILC program.

Mississippi Today: Why is breastfeeding a public health issue that MSPHI chose to get involved in?  

Tennille Collins: Mississippi currently has the lowest rates for breastfeeding in the country. There are also significant gaps when examining rates across racial and ethnic groups.  We want to remove the barriers that exist so that we can close those gaps so that mothers, babies, and families throughout the state can benefit. 

MT: What needs is the Making an Impact in the Lactation Community (MILC) program designed to address? How do you hope to see the program grow?

TC: The MILC Program will support two main activities. (One) supporting the Mississippi Breastfeeding Coalition through increased capacity and (two) expanding breastfeeding support services in priority areas through the education of additional Internationally Board-Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) – breastfeeding experts. Long term, we hope that Mississippi will have a corps of IBCLCs who are culturally competent and representative of the communities they serve, who need the most help in breastfeeding support.

MT: Why is the stigma around breastfeeding still so prevalent in our state and what can people do to change that?

TC: There are still several misconceptions perpetuated when it comes to breastfeeding, even for women who know that breastfeeding has significant benefits for them and their baby.  Many are told that breastfeeding will be challenging or may hurt physically. Many are told that breastfeeding is insufficient and that the baby will starve. Some believe that breastfeeding can result in an unhealthy bond with mother and child or an over-dependent child.  Also, there is often a lack of role models who are breastfeeding, particularly in Black communities, so the stigma essentially normalizes the decision to not breastfeed overtime.

Support systems are needed to increase both the likelihood that women choose to breastfeed and the duration of breastfeeding for mothers who do. Mothers need more support from members of their family, their partners or spouse, peers, employers, and other members of their community.  Families need to be more supportive and accepting, while workplaces need to have policies and environments that are supportive as well. 

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