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St. Louis County WIC program honored for helping moms breastfeed

By Dana Kazel
The St. Louis County WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program is being recognized by federal and state agencies for its work to promote breastfeeding and support new moms.

The USDA on Wednesday presented St. Louis County Public Health staff with its Loving Support Award of Excellence for its peer program services. The award program honors WIC local agency Peer Programs that have provided exemplary breastfeeding promotion and support activities. The county’s WIC offices serving the northern (Virginia, Hibbing and Ely) and southern (Duluth) regions each received the award.

Baby Cedar looks around as the adults share a laugh after the recognition event. L-R: Tim English, Midwest USDA Regional Administrator; Beth Hanni, St. Louis County Public Health Nurse; Ellie Tome, Minnesota Department of Heath; and new moms Alexa and Tiffany. Submitted / St. Louis County
Tim English, Midwest USDA Regional Administratrator, along with several representatives from the Minnesota Department of Health visited the WIC Clinic in Duluth to recognize the work that’s done county-wide.

Through the St. Louis County WIC program, public health staff start by talking about breastfeeding with expectant moms at their initial pregnancy appointment. Those who are interested in participating are referred to the Peer Breastfeeding Program. The program provides support from other moms and can help overcome potential barriers to breastfeeding. WIC staff also partner with the county’s maternal/child public health nurses who conduct home visits to mothers and caregivers and their infants. This provides continued support for moms with breastfeeding concerns.

Breastfeeding is the standard for infant feeding, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, because it provides essential nutrients and antibodies that boost an infant’s immune system, providing protection from childhood illnesses. Babies who are not breastfed are more likely to develop common childhood illnesses like ear infections and diarrhea as well as chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, asthma and childhood obesity.

Breastfeeding is important for mothers, too. Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis. Increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates is one of the goals outlined in the Healthy Minnesota 2020 framework to improve health and reduce health disparities across the state.

More than 89 percent of Minnesota moms start breastfeeding, but at six months that drops to 35 percent, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control Breastfeeding Report Card. Less than half of Minnesota infants are exclusively breastfed at three months. Challenges women face to meet their breastfeeding goals include those they experience in health care settings, work sites and child care centers; as well as the continuing need for breastfeeding education and support.

To learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding, or any of the services offered through St. Louis County WIC Clinics, call 218-725-5211 (Duluth) or 218-471-7604 (Hibbing, Virginia or Ely).