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Circles of Breastfeeding Support PDF Print E-mail
Written by laura Maxson LM   

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has chosen Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mother as the 2013 theme for World Breastfeeding Week Aug 1-7. This year’s theme specifically recognizes the contributions of breastfeeding peer counselors in breastfeeding success. This theme will also be highlighted at the seventh annual Breastfeeding Walk on Friday, August 9, from 3-5pm in Watsonville.


The Breastfeeding Walk is sponsored by Santa Cruz County’s Women, Infant and Children Nutrition Program, (WIC) and co-sponsored by Community Bridges, Santa Cruz County Breastfeeding Coalition, and United Way. The festivities begin with games, prizes, awards, and informational tables in the plaza park at East Beach Street and Main Street (during the farmers market) followed by a short, stroller/kid-friendly walk.


Our community can be very proud of our local WIC program, as it was one of the first in the state to initiate a peer counselor program. In 2000, they received a First-Five grant to open a WIC lactation center in Watsonville, Regalo de Amor (the gift of love). In 2005, when the grant ran out, money became available from the state of California to set up peer counselor programs, and Santa Cruz County WIC jumped at the chance to embrace the community-based support system. Promotoras, Spanish-speaking peer counselors, have been a huge part of our local WIC’s success in building rates of both initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding.


However, peer counselors don’t always have to be part of a governmental organization. In the 1950s, La Leche League International organized as an independent, nonprofit, mother-to-mother breastfeeding support system to make up for the lack of knowledge about breastfeeding in the 1950s. Breastfeeding rates soared, but La Leche League was just the beginning.


Breastfeeding peer counselors exist wherever there are women who have breastfed who offer support and information to other breastfeeding women. La Leche League, Nursing Mother’s Counsel, and the WIC peer counselor programs are part of the circles of support for breastfeeding women and babies.


WABA’s five circles of support include: health care, government/legislation, family and social network, workplace and employment, and response to crisis or emergency, with women in the center circle. Women, of course, are key in both receiving and providing support. They are active participants in their own success, but they also depend on the support provided by the surrounding circles.


As a society, we are in love with the image of a breastfeeding mother nursing her newborn baby. The problem with this breastfeeding image is that it is only a small part of a successful breastfeeding relationship. For real-life nursing moms, breastfeeding is part of the nitty-gritty of everyday life – in and out of the bedroom. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as well as the US Surgeon General and the American Academy of Pediatrics – all agree that our goal is for a baby to be breastfed for a minimum of one year, and in the first six months of that year, the baby will thrive on nothing but breastmilk. That’s a long time for anyone to sit in a bedroom.


We all should be part of the supporting circles for breastfeeding mothers and babies. Our society gives mixed messages. Mothers are told that babies need to be breastfed a year, yet many in our culture seem shocked and appalled by the very idea of a one-year-old baby at the breast, and one year is the minimum recommended time to breastfeed, with the World Health Organization saying, “Thereafter infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.”


The issues that come up while breastfeeding a one-week-old are very different from those when nursing a six-month-old, or a one-year-old, yet many mothers never get more than the hospital lactation sessions focused on nursing a newborn. A woman receiving ongoing support, information and reassurance about the importance and how-to’s of breastfeeding as her baby grows and her life changes, has the best opportunity to breastfeed for the minimum one-year or beyond.


What if we assumed that every woman we met with a baby under two-years-old might be breastfeeding? How helpful if would be if we simply anticipated that she might need a place to sit down and be welcomed to nurse her child – maybe while she is at the bank, the grocery store or at her older child’s school play. What if our society were geared toward helping breastfeeding mothers be successful at it? It’s not hard; it only takes a smile or a word of encouragement. Think about what you do everyday in your community, at work and home, and how you can be a cheerleader for breastfeeding mothers. Find your place in the circles of support for breastfeeding mothers and babies. How do we change society? Be the change that you want to see.


Side bar:

More information - Birthnet.org (upcoming events page)

WABA - worldbreastfeedingweek.org

WIC - cdph.ca.gov/programs/wicworks


Laura Maxson, LM, CPM, the mother of three grown children, has been working with pregnant and breastfeeding women for over 20 years. Currently she is the executive director of Birth Network of Santa Cruz County and has a homebirth midwifery practice. Contact her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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