By: Jennifer Brady and Dr. Janine Rethy, Loudoun County CPHMC Leadership Team
The Loudoun County Health Department, located in Northern Virginia, has been actively working to improve breastfeeding support systems available in the region in order to help mothers achieve their breastfeeding goals, and ultimately to increase breastfeeding initiation and duration rates in Loudoun County.
As part of the Community Partnerships for Healthier Mothers and Children Project, the Loudoun County leadership team is focused on increasing the number of workplaces that develop and successfully implement breastfeeding policies as well as increasing the number of providers with training in breastfeeding support. This work has included implementing best-practice recommendations from The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding (2011). The physician advisor on our team, Dr. Janine Rethy, a pediatrician and IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), has led these initiatives, and in the last several months, lots of progress has been made.
One Action calls for providing education and training in breastfeeding for all health professionals who care for women and children. During National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, the Loudoun County Health Department completed and distributed a toolkit for community providers entitled: “Best Practice Breastfeeding Support Implementation Guide for The Outpatient Office Setting.” The toolkit was lauded by leadership of the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and added as a resource on their website.
Another Action in the Call to Action is supporting mothers to have time and flexibility to breastfeed. Working closely with the Loudoun business community, including the County Chamber of Commerce as a key partner, we have engaged with businesses and assisted them in the evaluation of their readiness to implement breastfeeding policies in their workplaces. We created the Loudoun County Business Case for Breastfeeding Toolkit based on the US Health and Human Services Business Case for Breastfeeding and presented the materials at Chamber of Commerce events, Society for Human Resource Management events and directly to organizations and businesses. Outlining the benefits of creating a Lactation Support Program in the workplace, especially highlighting the 3:1 return on investments that businesses see due to things such as lower employee turnover and lower absenteeism, has been a key element in gaining the interest of local businesses.
A notable success is the recent implementation of a comprehensive Lactation Support Program by the Loudoun County Government. This work has included creating a work team with the Loudoun County Government’s Department of Human Resources, Department of General Services, and the county’s health insurance provider. Dr. Rethy led the team to uncover details of the benefits that are available and mandated under federal law for working moms, create a workable system for these benefits, write an official breastfeeding policy, train the human resource staff, determine the most effective way to communicate with employees, create a designated nursing mother’s lounge in two county government buildings, and provide guidance on creating temporary nursing lounges in locations where a permanent room is not feasible. The culmination of this work resulted in a Loudoun County Government Lactation Support Program Policy made effective on July 1st, 2016, and a ribbon cutting for the permanent breastfeeding room held on August 8th, 2016. In attendance at the ceremony were many from the multi-sector team who worked on the project as well as local government officials. In addition, Jarene Fleming, the Virginia Department of Health State Breastfeeding Coordinator, was in attendance. The event received local media coverage as well as coverage from NBC4 Washington, a regional news outlet for the Washington D.C. area.
All of these efforts initially gained the attention of Jarene Fleming when Dr. Rethy met with her at a Virginia State breastfeeding meeting in May. She praised Loudoun County’s breastfeeding work as being noteworthy for being the first comprehensive local government lactation support program implemented in Virginia, and for using a partnership with the local Chamber of Commerce to encourage businesses to adopt breastfeeding-friendly work policies. Dr. Rethy invited Ms. Fleming to visit Loudoun County in June to meet with key players in the local breastfeeding network and discuss Loudoun’s ideas for hosting breastfeeding trainings and recognizing breastfeeding-friendly businesses in the future. After returning again for the ribbon cutting, Ms. Fleming communicated her interest in using Loudoun County’s lactation support program as a model to take across the state.
Over the next few months, the Loudoun leadership team plans to strengthen its partnership with the Chamber of Commerce in order to develop a plan for establishing criteria for designating businesses as breastfeeding-friendly and recognizing them with a Virginia Department of Health Breastfeeding-Friendly decal. The team is also planning a Certified Lactation Counselor training program for WIC employees and community health care workers for early 2017. And, on an ongoing basis, the team continues to offer support to other local businesses interested in developing and implementing breastfeeding policies in their workplaces.
NBC Washington covered this story, read their coverage here.