‘No-Win’ Pressures on Mothers Addressed at Central Valley Lactation Conference

May 2, 2022

“It isn’t easy being a parent in the United States.”

Those words — succinctly spoken by Dr. Jen Thomas, MD, MPH, IBCLC, FAAP, FABM, at last week’s Central Valley Lactation Conference in Madera — lay bare the challenges all of us face right now as lactation advocates in the U.S.

New mothers are hit from all sides with messages that sabotage their breastfeeding goals.

They hear they can’t or won’t produce enough milk for their infants, they see formula ads everywhere they look, they sign up for formula marketing campaigns thinly disguised as a parenting support, they are told they need gadgets to improve lactation or to make babies sleep way longer than nature intended, and — maybe even worst of all — they live in a country with the worst social support system for new parents.

No true paid parental leave program at the federal level, no consistent coverage of lactation education and support, and abysmal access to the services that do exist in many parts of the country.

And YOU, as a lactation advocate, are often the only person debunking the myths and supporting families to achieve the breastfeeding experience of their dream.

This is why several local coalitions  — Madera County Breastfeeding Coalition, Kings County Breastfeeding Coalition, Merced Breastfeeding Network, and Fresno County Breastfeeding Coalition — joined forces to host the Central Valley Lactation Conference.  

“The collaborative efforts of the breastfeeding coalitions of the Central Valley Region made this day of learning possible through determination and hard work,” said Lupe Marzano, a program manager with the California Healthcare Collaborative’s Regional Perinatal Programs of California who was part of the planning committee. “We have one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the state, along with one of the highest rates of infants born prematurely.”

As the keynote speaker, Dr. Thomas brought laughter and fun to the serious topic of epigenetics and the gut microbiome. She was joined by the following additional speakers:

Karen Farley, RDN, IBCLC, and executive director at the California WIC Association, discussed  systems and policy improvements at the intersection of WIC access and outcomes, health care, and social drivers of health.

Jonathan Bautista, executive director of the San Jose Mothers’ Milk Bank, brought the world of milk bank operations to life for all to consider following step strategies that can be implemented in their work, connecting this invaluable service to benefit our tiniest humans. 

Dr. Hailey Nelson of Valley Children’s Hospital, also Dr. California America 2022, opened the event with words of encouragement to attendees who are on the front lines of supporting families throughout the state. 

Dr. Lisa Stellwagen, executive director and medical director of the newly accredited University of California Health Milk Bank at UC San Diego Medical Center, was scheduled to present but technical difficulties prevented her from being able to address attendees in the room. Her talk is recorded and will be provided to all registrants for later viewing.