July 19, 2011
If only newborns could vote, they'd surely
cast their teeny little ballots for Richmond, Virginia's Mayor Dwight Jones. That's
because this long-time activist in the black community has come up with an innovative
strategy for improving the health and well-being of his constituency: increasing the
breastfeeding rates in his town.
To this end, he has enacted a Breastfeeding
Commission. It's the kind of thing you could imagine people joking about, but they
better not: it's a 21st-century idea that deserves to be adopted in every city and
When he announced the commission, Jones had some
sobering statistics at hand: Disadvantaged babies, which are disproportionately also
black babies, have a 50 percent higher chance of dying of SIDS and suffer from many
other health problems as well. Though there are many reasons these things might be true,
he is convinced that breastfeeding would solve at least some of the problem.
His goal is to get a 25 percent breastfeeding rate in
Richmond in the next six months, and eventually work up to 75 percent. The panel is made
up of doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, and community leaders, and will make
recommendations at the end of 2011, at which point they'll be disbanded (and,
presumably, a more official office will be set up).
This is so awesome on so many levels. A political
leader understands, on such a deep level, that breastfeeding amounts to preventive
medicine. While many formula-fed children are just fine, an increase in breastfed babies
will lead to better health overall.
It's also going to lead to a lot of other
improvements. For one thing, a lot of poor women, regardless of race, can't breastfeed
because they have to go back to work sooner, often at places that don't provide
pumping rooms or nursing breaks. The presence of a breastfeeding commission would,
hopefully, give women strategies and support if they have to fight their employers for
work situations that support their breastfeeding (and the rest of their parenting as
well - because it all goes together).
To drive the point home, Mayor Jones also threw
around the kind of statistics that employers need to hear - that breastfeeding moms
supposedly take fewer sick days to care for sick kids. I don't know if that's true,
but I do know, having worked for a crappy, un-child-friendly corporation, that sometimes
that's the only language those mean bosses speak, so more power to him.
Posted by Amy Keyishian at