Opinion

How do we break down barriers to breastfeeding in Kansas? Communities, scholarships pave the way

Gov. Laura Kelly signs a proclamation designating August as "Kansas Breastfeeding Month." (Submitted)

Gov. Laura Kelly signs a proclamation designating August as Kansas Breastfeeding Month. Behind her, from left, are David Thomason, Ashley Goss, Brenda Bandy, Sen. Dinah Sykes, Melissa Rooker, Logan Stenseng, Earlisha Killen, Sapphire Garcia-Lies, Jennie Toland, Mandy Chapin, Stephanne Rupnicki and Sen. Kristen O’Shea. (Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition)

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. Brenda Bandy and Jennie Toland are co-executive directors of the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly declared August “Kansas Breastfeeding Month” during a ceremony July 29 in recognition of National Breastfeeding Month.

Yet for too many families in Kansas, breastfeeding is measured in days, not months. Although nearly 90% of babies in Kansas start out breastfeeding, fewer than one in three will be breastfeeding three months later.

The “choice” to breastfeed isn’t a choice at all for many families. Lack of paid family leave, support in the workplace, and lack of access to lactation support from people with shared backgrounds and culture, make breastfeeding seem impossible.

The barriers to breastfeeding increase for Black and Indigenous families. Breastfeeding rates amongst Black families is 9% lower than the state average. Structural barriers and historical trauma make it more difficult for Black and Indigenous parents to engage in a traditional practice that has sustained their families over generations.


 

Yet Black and Indigenous families in Kansas do breastfeed, despite bias and inequities.

The Wichita Black Breastfeeding Coalition “Latch Legacy” video shows generations of Black families in Wichita who have breastfed. 

Stephanne Rupnicki of the Kansas Kickapoo Tribe has been recognized nationally as an advocate for Indigenous breastfeeding. She graces the cover of the 2020 CDC Breastfeeding Report Card. She is working as the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s breastfeeding peer counselor to restore breastfeeding as the traditional first food for Indigenous families.

The Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition is working alongside these leaders in Kansas to address racial disparities in breastfeeding in innovative ways. An effective strategy is through investing in diversification of the lactation support provider workforce. Families deserve to receive breastfeeding help from those who share their background and culture.

In alignment with this goal, the coalition, with support from the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, recently awarded $8,000 in scholarships to support eight aspiring Latinx, Black, and Indigenous lactation support providers in Southwest Kansas, Kansas City, Topeka, and Wichita. 

This is in addition to the $14,000 awarded over the past two years.

The Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition is working alongside these leaders in Kansas to address racial disparities in breastfeeding in innovative ways. An effective strategy is through investing in diversification of the lactation support provider workforce. Families deserve to receive breastfeeding help from those who share their background and culture.

– Brendy Bandy and Jeannie Toland

These scholars, and those from previous years, share a passion for providing lactation support in their communities. They have demonstrated their commitment to supporting these communities by seeking to further their education in the lactation field. The KBC is committed to supporting these scholarship recipients in the pursuit of their goals.

“Breastfeeding is important for the health and wellbeing of both the parent and the child. We are excited to work with these individuals to build a diverse lactation support workforce so families in Kansas can receive culturally congruent care,” said Stephanne Rupnicki, Chair of the coalition’s board of directors and Co-Founder of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Breastfeeding Coalition.

The Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition continues to develop new and innovative strategies to diversify the lactation workforce and contribute to equitable access to breastfeeding support for all Kansans in partnership with KDHE, United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, and the Kansas Health Foundation.

Without equitable access to breastfeeding support and family-friendly workplaces, the choice to breastfeed isn’t a choice at all.

We must work collectively to build a culture of breastfeeding support in Kansas. For a list of actions, see the 2022 State of Breastfeeding in Kansas report. We can take action during Kansas Breastfeeding Month in August and in all the months that follow.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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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.

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Jennie Toland
Jennie Toland

Jennie Toland, BSN, RN, CLC, is the co-executive director of the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition. Before this, she worked for more than three years at the Western Plains Medical Complex in Dodge City as a nurse in OB and NICU helping breastfeeding families. She also worked two years for the Ford County Health Department as a Maternal & Infant Program coordinator and WIC nurse. Jennie led the formation of the Ford County Breastfeeding Coalition in 2018 and serves as its volunteer executive director. Working in southwest Kansas has provided her with unique experiences with diverse populations who have been historically underserved and/or underrepresented.

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