By Mike Templeton
The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition has a deep investment in public health. This goes back to the earliest days of the Urban Appalachian Council and its mission of advocacy and education. Central to public health is the health and well-being of mothers and children. The Appalachian Breastfeeding Network provides practical services and public education on breastfeeding throughout the Appalachian region, and their work is of concern to UACC and anyone who may need the kinds of services and assistance they provide.
Appalachian Breastfeeding Network exists at least in part due to the extremely low breastfeeding rates in Appalachia. To help women understand the importance of breastfeeding and to provide real assistance to new mothers, the Appalachian Breastfeeding Network maintains an extensive list of resources, including a 24-hour helpline that provides practical guidance and advice. The work of ABN is part of a larger project to educate people about the importance of breastfeeding, and “to work towards transformation of breastfeeding culture in Appalachia by providing empowerment and education to increase access to care.” By providing both information and guidance, the ABN is working to help bring breastfeeding back into common practice in the Appalachian region for the good of both babies and mothers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain that the best source of nutrition for newborn babies is a mother’s breast milk. Breastfeeding provides protection from illnesses and diseases in both the long- and the short-term. It is also the best protection for newborns against asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Mother’s breast milk shares antibodies directly from the mother to the baby, and this is a vital boost to a newborn’s immune system.
Despite these facts, breastfeeding in the United States fell out of favor in the first half of the Twentieth Century. This is partly attributable to classist ideas that breastfeeding was something “low-class” since it was a common practice among those who could not afford processed and packaged baby formula. Since the 1960s, the tide has turned on attitudes toward breastfeeding as people have become more aware of the benefits of breastfeeding. Still, some outmoded attitudes persist, and they tend to persist in areas where people have less access to information and assistance. The Appalachian region has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the country, and breastfeeding is far less common among urban poor people than their more economically advantaged counterparts.
The barriers that prevent some new mothers from breastfeeding are not just due to awareness and education. Societal and workplace attitudes continue to bear down on women and prevent them from breastfeeding. Many of the barriers fall disproportionately on people who are economically disadvantaged. Simple things like parental leave and supportive work policies could increase breastfeeding rates. This is why the Appalachian Breastfeeding Network is part of a national effort to educate not just new mothers, but also the general public on the importance and value of breastfeeding. The ABN engages in regular public speaking events to educate the public on the importance of breastfeeding. As they explain: “In an effort to educate on Appalachian breastfeeding barriers to the rest of the nation, our board members are active in conference attendance outside of our own conference.” They also offer webinars on general information on breastfeeding and on special topics such as breastfeeding and alcohol consumption. Zoom links for upcoming webinars can be found on their website which is included below.
Educating the public is, of course, important, but the most crucial mission of the Appalachian Breastfeeding Network is providing meaningful assistance to mothers and babies. To this end, the ABN maintains a 24-hour Breastfeeding hotline staffed by trained and licensed specialists who provide support and technical assistance on any aspect of breastfeeding, from the physical process of latching to educational support for people who are facing barriers. ABN also operates a program called the Appalachian Latch Leader Program. This is a “train the trainer” program that trains people to provide community education and support in their community.
Getting practical assistance to mothers and to the general public in Appalachian in the vital importance of breastfeeding is the mission of the Appalachian Breastfeeding Network. While people in the United States have largely woken up to the importance of breastfeeding for the health of children, negative attitudes and a lack of information persist in some segments of American life. Through the work of the Appalachian Breastfeeding Network, these conditions are changing. As the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition advocates on behalf of public health issues, we count the Appalachian Breastfeeding Network as a vital resource for healthy babies and mothers.
More information on the Appalachian Breastfeeding Network can be found at their website: https://www.appalachianbreastfeedingnetwork.org/.
The Appalachian Breastfeeding Network also has a Facebook page, which is a great way to keep up with speaking events and webinars: https://www.facebook.com/appalachianbreastfeedingnetwork/.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of the forthcoming The Chief of Birds: A Memoir. Available later this year from Erratum Press, and Impossible to Believe, forthcoming from Iskra Books. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.