Toncé Jackson, MPH, RDN, CLE
County: Los Angeles
Affiliation: PHFE WIC, a Program of Heluna Health
What programs are working to increase breastfeeding support and awareness in Black communities?
The statement “it takes a village to raise a child” is a common theme and driving force for CinnaMoms, an African American focused support program under the PHFE WIC (The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) in Southern California. The CinnaMoms journey began in 2015 when my colleague, Karla Washington, and I expressed the vision to increase breastfeeding rates among African American women at the PHFE WIC program. CinnaMoms created support circles that extended beyond our WIC services. We provide encouragement and a safe space to discuss historical feeding practices, perceptions of breastfeeding, familial feeding experiences, and the health benefits of breastfeeding. We invite our families to join the conversation, and they participate enthusiastically at every support circle and event.
What is the CinnaMoms Effect?
CinnaMoms is working to increase breastfeeding support and awareness in the Black community at WIC. In a small pilot study, we measured the CinnaMoms effect. Here are the results.
In tracking moms that participated in the CinnaMoms program, we measured breastfeeding rates in both CinnaMoms (intervention group) and moms who did not participate in CinnaMoms (control group).
Breastfeeding was measured by issuance of WIC food packages for:
- Moms that didn’t receive any infant formula from WIC (fully breastfeeding)
- Moms that received less than the maximum amount of infant formula from WIC (partially breastfeeding)
- Moms that received the maximum allowed infant formula from WIC (no breastfeeding).
All participants in the intervention group (CinnaMoms) received either the fully or partially breastfeeding food packages, whereas moms in the control group were more likely to receive infant formula from WIC. We conclude that CinnaMoms positively affects breastfeeding choices and supports families to continue to breastfeed.
Now with an expanded mission, CinnaMoms hopes to remove barriers to breastfeeding by reducing stress and trauma, helping to eradicate maternal and infant mortality and celebrating pregnancy and parenthood.
What does it mean to innovate and liberate the Black Breastfeeding experience?
Throughout the past four years, I have seen the importance of addressing other issues that possibly hinder the breastfeeding experience of our WIC families. To that end, we have expanded the mission of CinnaMoms. CinnaMoms seeks to create a cultural space that promotes empowerment and self-transformation for Black women and their families. We come together to share parenting tips, advocate for breastfeeding, reclaim self-care, and overcome transgenerational trauma to improve health for the entire life course. Each support circle, CinnaMoms are asked the following questions “What does Black motherhood mean to them” and “What does it mean to re-imagine and re-define motherhood?”
In June 2019, CinnaMoms hosted its first maternal health summit and conference for WIC families. The CinnaMoms Summit was made possible thanks to the generous funding by First 5 LA. Dr. Kimberly Gregory, MD MPH, addressed the “State of Maternal Health” to raise awareness of maternal mortality in the Black community. Following the “State of Maternal Health” Power Talk by Dr. Gregory, there was a maternal health panel moderated by Jadah Parks Chatterjee. Jadah shared her experience as a nurse and lactation consultant. The first panelist question went to Brandi Jordan, who led an engaging conversation on the role of a doula. She highlighted the HealthNet Doula program, which is a pilot program available to prenatal families. Aretha Jones-Adams is a mental health expert who shared valuable information with ways to identify the signs of postpartum depression and the role of support partners. Shamiesha Ebhotemen is a nurse and aspiring lactation consultant. She answered several questions on the hospital experience, breastfeeding benefits, and nursing beyond one year. In partnership with Black Infant Health and iDream, CinnaMoms were affirmed and led through positive self-talk activities.
The CinnaMoms Summit was an example of a platform and space where our families can imagine, innovate, liberate, and reclaim their breastfeeding and motherhood experience.
Imagine a world where Black women and families were truly listened to, supported, and invested in, how would this impact the Black breastfeeding experience?
Working for the WIC program for the past 12 years, I have seen the importance of listening to, supporting, and investing in Black women and families. As the PHFE WIC Health Equity Manager, a third-year doctoral student and a millennial from South Central, Los Angeles, I have an emic view into the social determinants impacting the health and breastfeeding outcomes of our WIC families.
Thanks to social media, research, and community organizations doing the work on the ground, we are seeing a positive shift in Black breastfeeding rates. But, in order to truly impact Black breastfeeding, we must ensure that the Black body, mind, pregnancy, family unit, community, and the Black woman is respected and treated with dignity.
We must continue to demand that providers and stakeholders #ListentoBlackWomen. I am proud to be apart the CinnaMoms movement. Serving nearly 1,500 unique CinnaMamas and their families since 2015. CinnaMoms is not only imagining a world where Black women and families are listened to, supported, and invested in, but we are carving out space at WIC where this is a reality. Here is a testimony from one of our CinnaMoms:
“My experience with breastfeeding started about ten years ago. It has been a very interesting road with my tribe. At some point, I felt like I lived in the WIC office, getting assistance with breastfeeding with my third child. He was my challenge, but overall, we had a great experience. The staff at the Saint Andrews Pl. WIC office were amazing, and they helped me every step of the way. This made me want to attend different programs to get to know other mothers like myself, who have more than one child or were breastfeeding. Then came CinnaMoms, a great program that connects you with other mothers just like you. Seeing the compassion, the staff at the Saint Andrews place office had for me and my cousin Mylexus led us both to become “Certified Lactation Educators,” through the CinnaMoms grant. I really wanted to be one of those moms that can relate to all things breastfeeding. I also wanted to share my experiences with other moms that may have a difficult time or need a bit of assistance.”
What can we do to ensure that all Black women and birthing individuals meet their infant feeding goals?
We must continue together and use our collective strength to reach infant feeding goals. In our CinnaMoms support/sister circles, we discuss “hot” topics that spark conversations about maternal and postpartum health, support systems, and cultural beliefs, while enjoying nutritious foods. As a value-added program within the WIC program, we are using innovation and creativity to support Black families through their pregnancy, birthing, postpartum, breastfeeding, and parenthood journey. We currently host bimonthly support circles at nine WIC centers that have a high population of African American/Black families. In August 2019, CinnaMoms expanded to the Pomonas, Bellflower, and Norwalk areas. Our WIC employee facilitators, most of whom are Certified Lactation Educators, lead the support circles. WIC mothers and their families in attendance are always provided a network of community support, capacity-building opportunities to learn and acquire new skills to take back to their community, and access to referrals to other family resources.
We believe in the #CinnamomsEffect on mothers and the entire family. CinnaMoms is committed to encourage, excite, and enrich their unique breastfeeding journey and lend a pair of listening ears to ensure a supported motherhood experience. CinnaMoms is re-imagining Black motherhood and is making its mark in breastfeeding and maternal health spaces. CinnaMoms and WIC are valuable pieces of the puzzle but we are just one piece. We are stronger and better together when we partner with families, fellow WIC agencies, community organizations, doulas and birth workers, hospitals and staff, CBC, CWA, and many more. Special thanks to the creators of Black Breastfeeding Week, Kimberly Seals Allers, Kiddada Green, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka for your vision, imagination and innovation in advancing the mission of Black infant and maternal health through breastfeeding.