For health of Kansas mothers and babies, a focus on 1,000 crucial days

August 26, 2021 3:33 am

From left, Nia Casey, DeLetha Kelley, Treva Smith, Brenda Bandy, Hakima Tafunzi Payne and Stacy Yeager gathered in Kansas City, Kansas, for a stop on the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition’s statewide listening tour. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Treva Smith and Brenda Bandy are co-executive directors of the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition.

Each year in Kansas, more than 35,000 babies will be born. More than 35,000 women will give birth. More than 35,000 families will do their best to ensure that their baby grows into a socially, emotionally, and physically healthy child who is confident, empathetic, and ready for school and life. This will be easier for some families than for others.

After completing a monthlong statewide listening tour, the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition is launching our very first campaign, appropriately titled: “First 1,000 Days Kansas.” 

The first 1,000 days — from a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday — is a time of tremendous potential and enormous vulnerability for a child. Babies’ brains develop fastest during this period. A baby’s brain already contains 10 billion cells during the 24th week of pregnancy, and these cells thrive on nutrition from the mother. 

After a baby is born, their brain makes one million new neural connections per second during age 1, and it reaches 80% of adult brain size by age 3. Infants’ relationships with caregivers and early experiences — both positive and negative — build the foundations of brain architecture, which supports their ability to learn, their behavior, and their overall health. 

Designed to increase awareness and work toward policy change at local, state and federal levels, the First 1,000 Days Kansas campaign incorporates findings from our recently completed statewide tour.

During the monthlong tour, we held 42 meetings with passionate state-level stakeholders and community partners. Several key themes emerged.

Medicaid coverage in Kansas falls short. Coverage for mothers ends a mere 60 days after giving birth. In addition, benefits do not include lactation support or doulas.

Kansans need paid family leave. Paid family leave would give families what they most want and need: time. Time to breastfeed, time to recover from childbirth and time to build a solid foundation from which they and their children can grow and thrive.

The campaign will advocate to align Kansas Medicaid (KanCare) coverage to the needs of Kansas moms and babies. Medicaid covers more than 40% of births in Kansas. The American Rescue Plan made it easier to extend Medicaid postpartum benefits for mothers from 60 days to one year, matching a mother’s coverage and her child’s coverage period. Our campaign will also be active during the Medicaid re-procurement process to ensure KanCare provides the coverage mothers and children need.

At the state and federal level, our campaign will support efforts to provide paid parental leave. The United States is one of the few countries in the world with no permanent, national law providing paid leave of any kind. As Gov. Laura Kelly pointed out when she recently expanded parental and family leave for state employees, this is a policy change that positively affects Kansas families and our economy.

We also know that lack of paid leave contributes to inequalities. Too often, the ability for parents to take time to care for themselves and their new baby while maintaining their economic security has been predominantly reserved for the white and wealthy few. This has contributed to racial inequities in infant mortality rates, as well as low breastfeeding rates. Black infants in Kansas are twice as likely to die in their first year of life than white infants, and they are less likely to be breastfed. Access to paid maternity leave for all families, not just the fortunate few, would reduce these gaps.

We are building a movement in Kansas that will focus on this time of greatest potential and vulnerability: the first 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s 2nd birthday. By ensuring all Kansas families have access to support — including mental and physical health services, high-quality child care, paid leave, financial security, and support networks, regardless of their skin color, gender or life experiences — we can strengthen our communities and live up to our promise as a state.

Please join us. More information and updates on the campaign can be found on our campaign website.

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Treva Smith
Treva Smith

Treva Smith serves as the co-executive director of the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition. Smith is a Prenatal Care Coordinator at KC Care Health Center, serving the Kansas City Metro area. She received her B.S. degree from Northwest Missouri State University. Treva has dedicated nearly 20 years to studying, educating, and advocating for breastfeeding. She has worked for WIC and Healthy Start. She was recognized in 2018 by the United States Breastfeeding Committee as an emerging leader. In addition to her work in the breastfeeding field, she is actively involved in the work of health promotion through Peer and Community Health workforces in Kansas and Missouri. She resides in Kansas City with her husband and four of their five children. Treva is also the proud grandmother of three beautiful breastfed babies.

Brenda Bandy
Brenda Bandy

Brenda Bandy is the co-executive director of the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition and a founding member and past president of the coalition. Brenda oversees the KBC’s programs, which includes work with employers, child care providers, families, public health, hospitals, and community organizations. She serves on the Kansas Maternal Child Health Council which advises the state Title V program. She has been an active member representative to the US Breastfeeding Committee since 2011 and served on the USBC Board of Directors. Brenda has been an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for more than 10 years and is a retired La Leche League Leader of 20 years. She has a passion for bringing people together to remove barriers to breastfeeding.