At a Glance
In 2019 the Reach Out and Connect (ROaC) team at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences partnered with the Northwest Arkansas (NWA) Breastfeeding Coalition to revitalize and expand the coalition to strengthen breastfeeding throughout Northwest Arkansas. The technical assistance provided to the coalition has increased attendance at coalition meetings, expanded the coalition network, and provided helpful guidance to promote breastfeeding throughout the region.
Public Health Challenge
According to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Arkansas is ranked 50th among states and territories in the United States in percentage of infants who have ever breastfed.1 Further, only one in five infants in Arkansas were reported to have been breastfed exclusively at six months, as recommended by the CDC.1 Additionally, Arkansas’s rates of adult type 2 diabetes and obesity are among the highest in the nation.2 Marshallese and Hispanic populations face disproportionately higher rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes as compared to other groups within the state.3 Children who breastfeed – as well as their mothers – experience lower risks of several health conditions such as diabetes and obesity.4 However, according to the CDC, 60% of mothers stop breastfeeding sooner than planned, in part due to lack of support in the workplace and social norms often discouraging breastfeeding.
In early 2019 the ROaC program joined the NWA Breastfeeding Coalition. After discussion with core members, ROaC committed to help the NWA Breastfeeding Coalition expand and better engage members in promoting breastfeeding across NWA. The ROaC team administered an initial survey to current coalition members for feedback on how meetings could be improved to better engage members, and utilized its extensive network to help publicize the next meeting to bring in new community members. The first NWA Breastfeeding Coalition meeting of 2020 had over 30 participants. Most were first time attendees. During the first meeting, ROaC conducted a social network analysis to understand the current demographic makeup of the group and administered a new survey to explore what members wanted to attain from the coalition. The social network analysis identified strengths in membership, and areas where higher representation among other professionals, organizations in the field, and essential partners might be warranted. Additionally, ROaC formed a strategy team to plan quarterly meetings for the coalition and presented findings from the Arkansas Health Department Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) on the state of breastfeeding in NWA.
Attendance at the NWA Breastfeeding Coalition meeting more than tripled following the technical assistance and publicity from ROaC. Post-meeting survey results from 25 respondents showed all planned to attend future meetings and would recommend the coalition to colleagues. Subsequent attendance at the meetings has remained stable, even as the last two meetings were held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).
With ROaC’s support, the coalition has been able to be more responsive to current needs. The coronavirus pandemic cast uncertainty on breastfeeding best practices. ROaC was able to arrange for an expert to speak on breastfeeding during the pandemic. The expert gave timely and novel breastfeeding guidance to 30 coalition members across NWA.
In survey results, coalition members identified breastfeeding awareness and promotion across NWA as a top priority for the coalition. Subsequently, the coalition generated a Breastfeeding Awareness Month campaign, with posters and a resource guide to disseminate throughout NWA in the month of August. The coalition is targeting large worksites and community centers to spread awareness and garner support to normalize breastfeeding in the diverse communities of NWA.
The NWA Breastfeeding Coalition will continue to add diversity to its membership, especially among groups and individuals serving breastfeeding mothers and babies of color. The coalition also plans to launch subcommittees to tackle coalition priority areas, such as promoting breastfeeding in worksites. Starting in October 2020, the coalition will offer Continuing Education credits through the American Academy of Family Practice during quarterly meetings. This will encourage participation and ensure the dissemination of best practices in breastfeeding across NWA.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Immunization Survey (NIS) 2018-2019.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020.
- US Department of Health and Human Services Ofﬁce of Minority Health. https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/Default.aspx
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion