Life&Times: Breastfeeding for the nation: WIC counselor works to educate, promote breastfeeding to help with big picture
Elizabeth Pope has been the WIC breastfeeding peer counselor for the past three years at the Boyle County Health Department. The department has seen an increase in participation in the program, partly due to Pope's outreach efforts. "I want moms to know they're not alone," she says. (Bobbie Curdemail@example.com)
“But I’m a mom, and I’d like to think I know what’s important to us,” Pope says. As a breastfeeding peer counselor for the Boyle County Health Department, Pope strives to drive home what she feels is an incredibly important part of motherhood — breastfeeding.
Pope heads classes and offers support by reaching out to the community to support and educate WIC moms — those who are on the Women, Infants and Children program. WIC provides grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income mothers, and to infants and children up to five years old.
“It’s a voluntary (breastfeeding) program and WIC moms are not required to do it, but only WIC moms can participate,” Pope says. Within her role, she not only teaches classes where new mothers learn how to successfully breastfeed, but offers in-home and hospital assistance.
“I make myself available 24/7, and many moms continue to request my support after they’ve taken the class. They want me to come to their homes, make sure they’re doing everything right with feeding ...” Pope says.
Although the class has been offered for three years, Pope says its popularity seems to have increased lately. This could be due to her outreach attempts, such as the Walk for World Breastfeeding Week she organized in August — something she plans to get a jump on for next year and make even bigger.
“I want every woman to know that it’s her choice and she shouldn’t feel pressured, but they need to know the benefits compared to feeding with formula,” she says. Pope says when mothers tell her they are researching feeding their babies formula or breastfeeding, she is all for it.
“There’s so many proven benefits out there, I tell them to search on,” Pope says, and points out the natural vitamins and nutrients readily available in mother’s milk. “Research suggests babies have higher IQs who were breastfed, because they are more relaxed, more open to learning and more in touch with their five senses.”
Kristin Drury took advantage of the free classes.
“Miles was never ill once during breastfeeding,” Drury says. “I sincerely believe it’s because I chose to feed him naturally.”
Drury admits — the process isn’t easy. “But Elizabeth taught me not to give up, that it’s OK to be frustrated, that a lot of mothers are. If I hadn’t gone to the class, learned the technique and all the benefits, I’m not sure I would have kept trying. I’m a firm believer now. And I feel like we bonded more as a result.”
Drury says she’s noticed how many babies who are on formula seem to be overweight, as well.
“And for me? I lost my pregnancy weight in two weeks, which surprised me and others. I think it’s because I breastfed.”
Pope says when looking at the benefits, it’s common sense to her. When breastfeeding, females produce a hormone called prolactin which affects the body as a stress reliever, as well as oxytocin which helps product the milk. Both hormones also aid in weight loss, due to the uterus contracting and aiding in decreasing inflammation.
“And something you won’t read is how it helps with overbearing relatives,” Pope says, smiling. “Because it’s mommy and baby’s time, and it’s natural to request some privacy.”
Pope became pregnant as a single 26-year-old and was recruited in for the counseling position with the health department during an appointment to find out about WIC.
“Julie Steber told me about the program and what she’d just received a grant to do, and that’s how it all started,” Pope says.
“She has such an outgoing personality, and since she’s been through it herself and was a single mom, going to school — her situation seemed to be a perfect mesh,” Steber says. Steber, a registered dietician and a certified lactation counselor, says she feels the program contributes to the big picture.
“Breastfeeding will make health care affordable in the United States,” Steber says. “It’s preventative — what we see it continually do for the baby and mother’s health. It prevents obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer. We’re looking 30 years out. We hope we can reduce the health problems by educating the masses on why breastfeeding is important.”
Steber says the U.S. population of overweight people is about 50 percent now, and stats show it jumping to 60 percent soon.
“Kentucky is fortunate to have this peer breastfeeding program, and they’ve been gradually building on it,” Steber says. As of now, there are peer counselors in 56 Kentucky counties. But not every state has initiated the program.
“Some have really gotten into the game, but the problem has to do with funding. Someone has to be on board at the state level who wants to jump into grant writing ...”
Pope had her own experience with breastfeeding frustrations.
“When I had Mason, I didn’t know anything about it. Thought you put the baby up there, and they latched on that’s it. Well, it’s not. Ask any mother, it can be tough. I didn’t know about pumping, how my nipples should look while feeding, not to hunch over, weaning and hand expressions ...” Pope says. “Sometimes, it’s just nice to have someone to offer support, let you know you’re not failing as a new mom, while you’ve got all these hormones raging.”
Pope, is passionate about teaching women what she feels is the healthiest way to feed their babies.
“Every mom and baby is different, but almost every new mom will blame themselves if they can’t begin breastfeeding right away, without any issues,” she says. “There’s no question that’s stupid. I’d rather them ask a million questions than put their baby on formula.”
For a schedule of Pope’s classes, call the health department at (859) 236-2053.