By Tonya Kubo
California Breastfeeding Coalition
In much of California, the only lactation, breastfeeding and human milk feeding resources available are through local WIC programs.
This is evident each year at the California Breastfeeding Summit, where about 20% of attendees list WIC as their employer.
However, there is one WIC program that sends the highest number of staff each year to the Summit. Public Health Foundation Enterprise (PHFE) WIC has sent 25 to 30 employees to the Summit each year since 2021.
Going all-in on improving breastfeeding rates
PHFE WIC, a program of Heluna Health, is the largest nonprofit WIC nutrition network in the U.S. and serves about 185,000 individuals in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties each month.
The impact of Summit participation for employees reaches far beyond the event itself, Deputy Director of Breastfeeding Services Cindy Clapp said.
“Increasing breastfeeding rates among our participants has been a focus area here for some time,” Clapp said. “Attending the Summit energizes our staff, supports their continuing education requirements, and gives them skills and perspectives they can share both on the job and in their daily lives. So many of our employees take what they learn at the Summit and apply it to their own lives and also share it with friends and relatives.”
Clapp, who has been with PHFE WIC for 30 years, was originally a dietitian. She decided to pursue lactation as a career path after birthing her second child. That’s when she obtained her IBCLC credentials and transferred to PHFE’s breastfeeding department.
The growth of her department wouldn’t be possible, she said, without the support of management. Executive Director Kiran Saluja, who has worked for WIC for almost 40 years and led the program since 2013, has always been willing to invest in the team, Clapp said.
The investment has paid off. Since 2021, the program has seen a 15% change in exclusive breastfeeding newborns, going from 23.6% to 27.2%.
Investing in education for WNAs
This year, Clapp is experimenting with sending even more employees to the conference. So far, 85 staff have registered for the 2024 virtual event.
“It’s a big ship to move,” Clapp said. “And if we’re going to continue supporting lactation success for our families, we need more staff experiencing the research, trends, tactics, and networking available at the Summit firsthand.”
The major decision Clapp made this year was to expand the invitation to attend the Summit to include WIC Nutrition Assistants (WNAs). Clapp’s hope is that by including nutrition assistants at the Summit, PHFE families will benefit from quality, timely support with lactation and human milk feeding.
“They are the frontline staff,” she said. “They take the calls and work with most of our families. It’s important for them to provide the best, most accurate information to participants. It’s also important that they identify which participants need a higher level of support, so they can escalate those cases quickly to lactation consultants or other providers.”
With the 2024 Virtual California Breastfeeding Summit taking place online, PHFE WIC staff will be actively present in session discussions and in the community forums. If you’re attending the Summit in January and are curious about how PHFE WIC has made such a difference for the communities they serve, reach out in Whova when the event opens.
Early Bird registration continues through Nov. 30. To register yourself or your team for the Summit, click here.