I recently attended presentations by Simmons University students enrolled in the World Challenge Program. The purpose of this challenge is for groups of three to five undergraduates to review a specific social problem on both the local and global level. They research and develop actionable solutions.
Over winter term, students focused on this year’s challenge: Infant Nutrition and the Global Challenge of Breastfeeding. They first researched this issue on a local level. In the Spring, they will complete a similar project in Argentina.
Their presentations highlighted the problems, their research findings and their detailed proposals. These included models and budget estimates. Equally important, the most viable projects can be considered for Alumni funding. This can bring the project to life.
These Simmons students had done their homework! They had conversations with the DPH Breastfeeding Coordinator and Boston Breastfeeding Coalition’ Breastfeeding Scholars. The students included the rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration. In addition, they surveyed area medical schools and discovered that local medical students receive zero to three hours of lactation education.
Some of the challenges identified and addressed were
• limited lactation education among health care providers
• the impact of parental leave policies
• timely access to answers to breastfeeding questions for new parents
• the need for breastfeeding education suited to the needs of LGBTQ + families.
The solutions proposed included:
•A lecture series for Pre Health majors at Simmons
•Hosting a full day conference for health care providers. This would focus on the lactation needs of underserved populations and accessing care in the community.
• A public health education campaign on family leave.
• An app for parents identifying community resources for a diverse range of families and offering answers to common questions.
• A Toolkit for breastfeeding and chestfeeding LGBTQ+ families. (The students have since provided copies of this toolkit to the local Baby Café.)
Those of us toiling in Lactation World often see the challenges individual families face. We can see the broader cultural forces at play. For me as an active IBCLC, this presentation was heartening beyond measure. Here were young women who quickly grasped the needs and came up with viable strategies to address them. They clearly understood that the responsibility for meeting breastfeeding goals has been placed disproportionately on breastfeeding parents.
These students set about finding strategies to improve community based lactation support. The quality of these proposals, their enthusiasm and knowledge gave me more hope for meeting the challenges of lactation care. These student planted seeds with their projects (and hopefully, they will receive Alumni funding.) They gained more knowledge about breastfeeding and furthermore, about the complicated state of lactation support. This is knowledge they can share with new parents in their lives.
This research has already made them good advocates. They have a foundation to promote better access to lactation education for providers and better care for all breastfeeding families.