Community Key for Supporting Latina Moms

October 9, 2019

Hispanic Heritage Month ends October 15 and though the work to promote, protect and support breastfeeding in California is year-round, we at the California Breastfeeding Coalition (CBC) want to take this opportunity to recognize work being done to reach Hispanic families in the state.

The theme for the month is Hispanic Americans: A History of Serving Our Nation. There isn’t a better way to serve the nation than by ensuring all babies have access to the best possible first food: human milk.

Angelica Benitez of Los Angeles and Lizeth Betancourt of Yolo County are two women serving the nation through the work they are doing in their communities.

Benitez, who works for AltaMed Health Services Corp. says the most powerful thing anyone can do to serve and support families is advocate in any way possible. Betancourt, who works for Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency agrees.

“Every day, Latinas face difficult obstacles,” she said. “[My work] allows me the opportunity to develop lasting and meaningful relationships with families and the community.”

The Future is Bright

In thinking of a world where Hispanic families were truly valued and supported, Benitez envisions women breastfeeding without fear.

“They’d feel free to breastfeed in any public place,” she said. “And maybe even not have to skip out on pumping breast milk for their baby as they return to work. They wouldn’t be fearful about or threatened with getting fired.”

As the CBC works with partners like state Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) to tighten legislation around lactation accommodations and employee protections, Benitez’s words are a reminder of the potential impact such policies have for some of the most vulnerable workers in our state. SB 142, which strengthens protections and clarifies how basic accommodations are defined, is awaiting signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom. For sample tweets and a phone call script to support the bill, click here.

Though legal protection is important, Betancourt has found that education and support are key to increasing breastfeeding awareness and acceptance within Hispanic communities.

“Hispanics love community,” she said. “Breastfeeding peer support programs are a great way to support and educate. Every new mother needs support but having someone speak your language makes you feel like you belong. It’s always great to see a mother’s face when she knows that she can communicate how she feels.”

Community is Everything

Ximena Swarts, a contractor with the CBC who just returned to work after having her second son, agrees that support is key and also has found that there is no such thing as too much of a good thing.

She came to the U.S. from Colombia with her mother when she was young. Her three brothers were born here in what she calls a very “American” culture.

“Although my mom breastfed for a time, she found formula feeding easier,” Swarts said. “She was taught formula-fed babies sleep better, and she passed that misinformation along to me when I became a mother.”

Swarts, however, had access to more accurate information early on.

“I attended moms groups at the local hospital led by lactation consultants; working with WIC, I met others committed to supporting moms,” she recalls. “Knowing I had resources and community gave me confidence to stick with my commitment to breastfeed.”

Resources and community are both critical to breastfeeding success, agrees Patricia E. Medina, who works for Breastfeeding Support, Inc in Southern California. Education, economic support and time with their infants are all factors that can affect a mother’s ability to establish a strong breastfeeding routine.

“Most of them have to return to work so soon,” she said.

The Office on Women’s Health offers resources in English and in Spanish to help support nursing moms in the workplace. The website includes information on rights, policies, and other resources to help ]women successfully balance the priorities of work and family.