This week’s CHEER Champion of the Week is Dalvery Blackwell, BA, IBCLC, Executive Director and Co-Founder of African American Breastfeeding Network, Inc. (AABN). She was nominated by Erica Morrell, PhD, for being a “dedicated and passionate community leader who meets families where they are at, to transform neighborhoods from within.”
Founded in 2008, AABN has been impacting families in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area for over a decade. Their vision is to “live in a world where breastfeeding is the norm within the African American community” (http://aabnetwork.org/about). They are working to make this vision a reality through their various services, including their signature Community Breastfeeding Gatherings (CBG), which educate families on the benefits of breastfeeding. They also offer breastfeeding support from Dalvery, who is an IBCLC, or their Community Breastfeeding Peer Counselors; hospital and home visits; father support; online breastfeeding support; and bereavement support at their new “Healing Waters” gatherings for families who have experienced pregnancy/birth loss.
“Very few community-led, African American-led organizations last beyond two years,” says Dalvery. “I am proud that AABN is a viable resource with eminent community-will with key stakeholders and leaders.”
AABN has been recognized in local, state and national media and reports, most notably Essence Magazine’s April 2015 article, “Ten Things People Are Talking About,” a January 2015 news report in Associated Press, the 2014 CDC Breastfeeding Report Card, and the 2014 Black Child Development Institute-Milwaukee report, “Being Black is Not a Risk Factor: Statistics and Strengths-Based Solutions.”
This year, AABN received a grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program for its Community Doula Initiative, a project to help enhance community capacity and strengthen the community of doulas in Milwaukee County. This summer, they will also collect 60 surveys through their WE RISE (Water and Environmental Research for Infants' Safe Eating) initiative, to address the impact of lead in water for families of childbearing age.
“I immensely enjoy working with women and their families,” Dalvery shares. “The positive and immediate result that new moms experience while breastfeeding feeds my soul and provides the daily reassurance I need that African American women love their families and children, and only want the best for them. Working with first-time moms is the most rewarding personally for me. I feel blessed to be able to do this work. Breastfeeding our babies in my immediate family is normal; my 3 nieces breastfed exclusively for over 12 months!”
Dalvery believes breastfeeding awareness, initiation, and support among African Americans is higher than it was 10 years ago. However, African Americans still lag far beyond other ethnic groups when it comes to exclusivity and duration, she says. Her vision is for this to change, to see more women of color become IBCLCs, and to see other systemic changes within the health system.
“African Americans need to continue leading the movement that calls out and addresses systemic and institutionalized racism and inequalities in US health care. With a stronger, wider reach/movement we can change workplace policies, hospital practices and legislation to improve infant maternal health outcomes. No first-time mom living in America should birth without a community-based doula; all health insurances, including Medicaid, should cover doula costs,” Dalvery comments.
AABN is a partner of the Milwaukee African American Perinatal Health Collaborative, a new initiative addressing infant mortality. In 2017, Dalvery received the Woman of Commitment Award from the Wisconsin Alliance for Women Health, and she is a recipient of the Milwaukee Community Journal 2018 Year of the Child: A Game Changer Honoree.
Congratulations, Dalvery! CHAMPS applauds your work and wishes you the best!
Reba Lee, RN, IBCLC, RLC, is a Lactation Nurse and the Lactation Team Lead at CHAMPS hospital, Anderson Regional Medical Center in Meridian, Mississippi. She was nominated as CHEER Champion of the Week for her many years of dedicated service to mothers and babies, and for her help with the Baby-Friendly journey at her hospital.
Reba has worked at Anderson Regional for 26 years. She began as a Nursery/NICU staff RN, then transitioned to Lactation Nurse in 1997. She has taught newborn care and breastfeeding classes since 1997. She became a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) in 2000 and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in 2012.
The Lactation Center at Anderson Regional offers prenatal breastfeeding classes, inpatient and outpatient consults, and a warm-line for breastfeeding support. In addition to running these services and teaching classes, Reba also writes magazine/newspaper articles and interviews with local news outlets to educate the public on the benefits of breastfeeding. As CHAMPS Lactation Team Lead, Reba has participated in Baby-Friendly task force meetings and CHAMPS phone calls and webinars; and assisted with updating policies, writing prenatal education brochures, obtaining/reporting Baby-Friendly stats, and organizing staff education and skills fairs. Reba is also co-host of the East Mississippi Baby Café-Meridian.
Early in her career, Reba received a letter from a former patient that “rocked [her] world.” Inspired by the story, CHAMPS asked Reba if she would be willing to share it here.
Reba says: “In the letter, this particular mother thanked me for the breastfeeding education and support that I had given. But then she made several comments about the ‘way’ that I spoke to her, the ‘respect’ that I gave her, the ‘tenderness’ that I displayed with her baby, and the ‘patience’ that I shared as she and her baby worked through the learning process. Then she wrote this, ‘In those few visits, you taught me more about being a good mother than my own mom ever taught me.’ In that moment, I was totally humbled as I tried to even recall the specifics of that particular patient. But since receiving that letter, I am daily challenged each time I meet with a patient to remember how easily a new mom may be influenced one way or the other by my words, actions, and attitude. Supporting breastfeeding mothers…what a great opportunity to influence healthy lifestyles of the future!”
Cathy Carothers, BLA, IBCLC, FILCA, CHAMPS Mississippi Liaison & Trainer, comments: “Our patients DO notice us. They see when we are listening to them, when we show respect, and when we help them meet their goals. We might never know how the seeds we are planting will sprout and bloom, but it is a unique privilege and precious opportunity to be able to be in this position at what could be for many women, the most important point in their life.”
Congratulations, Reba! Thank you for all that you do and for this incredible story!
Congratulations to Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC) in Anchorage, Alaska, for becoming Baby-Friendly designated on May 22, 2019! ANMC was part of the American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) CHAMPS program from 2015 until the end of the AI/AN CHAMPS grant in 2018. It is the largest tribal hospital in Alaska and serves as a tertiary care center for all tribal hospitals in Alaska. ANMC has approximately 1,600 births per year, and many mothers, including high-risk mothers from other tribal hospitals and mothers from remote villages, travel to Anchorage to deliver at ANMC.
“It was a very long journey to achieve Baby-Friendly designation, and there is a sense of pride knowing that we are providing the best care to our infants and moms alike,” says Lisa Derr, RNC, Director of Family Birthing Services at ANMC.
Lisa says one of the biggest differences that Baby-Friendly has made is that it provides a consistent framework for staff and patients.
“One of the most frustrating events from a new parent’s perspective is to receive conflicting information, especially about the most fundamental task, breastfeeding,” Lisa explains. “Having uniform language and teaching helps develop the trust between the patient and the care providers, which naturally lends itself to them trusting us with their whole care.”
Now that ANMC is Baby-Friendly, Lisa says they will focus on maintaining designation and continuing to help their patients be the best parents they can be, starting with their babies’ first breaths. They also have a strong desire to have telehealth lactation support for the remote villages in Alaska to support breastfeeding mothers. While there is lactation assistance in the Anchorage bowl, where ANMC’s campus is located, mothers in the villages often do not have any lactation assistance at all.
To read more about ANMC, check out their CHEER Hospital of the Week post from 2016!
Well done, ANMC! CHAMPS applauds all your hard work and celebrates with you!
The Elna Maternity Center, which shelters pregnant women and families with infants and children in central Athens, Greece, is today’s CHEER Champion of the Week! Elna became an independent non-profit on May 1st, 2019, but had already been housing refugees for a year in their current location, which is down the street from the CHEERing (CHEER in Greece) office.
CHEERing works closely with Elna, visiting at least once a week to support breastfeeding and check in on infant feeding and growth, as well as providing support-based education, and liaising with Medical Volunteers International who also visit Elna weekly.
Elna is unique in Athens for accepting pregnant women and children as residents. Their small, multi-story apartment building has space for 20 families in separate rooms, and usually houses about 60 people, most of them children. At the time of writing they are home to 2 pregnant women and 8 infants aged around 6 months or younger. Families come from many nations but most refugees are from Afghanistan, the Congo, or Syria. Apart from housing, the volunteers at Elna also accompany the residents for medical checks at the public hospitals, for the asylum process at various public services, and in general help the residents in the process of integration into the Greek society with language lessons and support with paperwork.
Carlos, who runs Elna along with long-term volunteers Isabel and Zourine, is a Spanish film maker who has also lived in New York. He wasn’t planning to open a shelter when he came to Athens for work, but ended up staying.
“What else can you do?” he asks. “If governments would do what they are obliged to do, we wouldn’t be here, but they don’t. Europeans and others are all responsible. Their governments sell weapons, and wars follow, and we are the people who put them into power. And then, Europe closes its borders. We cannot follow like lambs. We are all human beings. We all have to fight for everyone’s human rights.”
“It’s our responsibility to help in a human rights crisis, since we are privileged people,” says Isabel. “I feel it’s my responsibility to help in the way I can help.”
Taking on pregnant women, infants, and children is particularly strenuous. Elna is filled with dozens of small children and keeping them busy, happy, and healthy takes long hours of dedication and patience. Most families have suffered major trauma. Throughout the day, families cook, work, and feed their babies! The shelter recently started a roof garden with herbs and vegetables.
Elna is named after the Elna Maternity Home, founded by Elisabeth Eidenbenz, a young Swiss teacher who helped refugees during the Spanish Civil War and the following Second World War in France. The crisis, and dangerous circumstances for pregnant women and newborns, inspired her to convert an abandoned mansion in the small town of Elne in the south of France into a maternity home, which saved an estimated 400 Spanish children and 200 Jews from the Nazi regime during the War.
Carlos and his team believes that they cope because “We talk a lot, and we help each other a lot!”
CHEERing is proud to collaborate with Elna Maternity Home, congratulates them, and offers onsite encouragement for them to keep up their tireless work.
CHEER Champion of the week
Each Monday (besides public holidays), we will recognize a CHEER Champion for all the support they have provided for CHEER, CHAMPS, or the general public.