Central Valley Lactation Experts Link Arms to Increase Regional Breastfeeding Rates

November 9, 2023

postcard with portraits of four women who serve as breastfeeding experts in the central valley.

By Tonya Kubo
California Breastfeeding Coalition

The California Department of Public Health’s Women, Infants and Children (CDPH/WIC) established the Regional Breastfeeding Liaison (RBL) Program in 2010 to narrow the breastfeeding support gaps in each region throughout the state.

“The state recognized that the USDA-funding Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Programs couldn’t reach their full potential without having corresponding breastfeeding awareness, knowledge and support from healthcare providers, community partners and employers where WIC mothers lived,” said Jeannette Newman-Velez, CDPH/WIC Breastfeeding Support Unit Chief. Newman-Velez oversees the RBL program for the state.

Assigning a lactation-focused professional in high need regions of the state made that strong network of support possible. To date, there are 31 RBL programs serving 32 counties in California. RBLs are breastfeeding experts who can:

Collaboration Makes a Difference

By the nature of the role they play in a region’s infant-feeding landscape, RBLs are naturals at fostering relationships throughout the communities they serve. But limitations of time and location don’t often allow for close collaboration with their peers. The Central Valley, however, has overcome these barriers despite its expansive geographic area.

Four women post in front of balloons spelling out LACTATION CONFERENCE

The Central Valley RBLs supported the planning and presentation of the Central Valley Lactation Conference.

The Valley, which has among the lowest breastfeeding rates in the state, is supported by four RBLs:

  •       Adourin Malco, Merced and Mariposa counties
  •       Carmen Escobar, Kings and Tulare counties
  •       Jazmin Mendez, Kern County
  •       Sally Tran, Fresno and Madera counties

One of the area’s newest RBLs, Escobar, said working with Malco, Mendez, and Tran helped her find creative ways to effectively tackle her professional objectives.

“We are better together than working in silos,” she said.

 Newman-Velez said the Central Valley RBLs are an example of how partnership and collaboration can amplify impact.

 “We believe when you work together, you avoid the duplication of effort while magnifying the results of your work,” she said. “We encourage RBLs to network in any way that makes sense for them and their regions.”

It’s hard to deny the impact the Valley RBLs have had on the area’s infant-feeding landscape. Escobar, Malco, Mendez and Tran were part of the planning committee for the 2022 Central Valley Lactation Conference, which convened healthcare providers, community advocates and agencies to provide lactation-supportive education and skill-building. They’ve also presented their work to CDPH’s Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health (MCAH) Regional Perinatal Programs of California (RPPC).

“California is a big state with big goals when it comes to breastfeeding rates,” Malco said. “It could be overwhelming to serve two counties all by myself. But knowing I have Carmen, Jazmin and Sally in my corner makes the possibilities feel limitless.”

 As anyone in the First Food field knows, that kind of collegial support is worth its weight in gold. To see if there is a WIC RBL in your region, contact your local WIC agency.