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Strickland Vows to Make City Friendlier for Breastfeeding Moms

New city lactation policy offers support to city employees who are breastfeeding.


Trinity Poole's tattoo
  • Trinity Poole's tattoo

On Trinity Poole's bicep, there's a tattoo of a mother breastfeeding her child in a ring sling. It symbolizes dual passions — breastfeeding and baby wearing.

"I got it because those two things have been a very big part of bonding with my son," said Poole, 36, who has an 18-month-old son and a daughter due in October. "My first resource was my sister Meredith, who became passionate about nursing in public and breastfeeding rights when she had her youngest daughter. It sparked an interest in me."

Mayor Jim Strickland recently signed a pledge to make Memphis a more supportive environment for breastfeeding mothers. Immediate steps include a lactation support policy for city offices, which would require designated storage for breast milk in workplace refrigerators and an employee orientation. And eventually, the policy will lead to the opening of lactation rooms at City Hall. Strickland did not respond to a request for comment.

If 90 percent of mothers exclusively breastfed for six months, the United States would save $13 billion and 911 lives per year, a Cambridge Health Alliance found. Though infant mortality stems from widespread issues, breastfeeding is known to lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Enter the Shelby County Breastfeeding Coalition, an advocacy group comprised of nurses, certified lactation consultants, breastfeeding peer counselors, dietitians, nutritionists, and, of course, mothers.

"Breastfeeding is important because of the significant health benefits," said Coalition Chair Allison Stiles, a physician who practices breastfeeding medicine. "There's less of all types of infections for the baby: less infant mortality, less obesity, less Type 1 and 2 Diabetes. As well as for mom — fewer sick days, lower insurance costs, less breast cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, and less obesity."

Shelby County reports some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the United States and an infant mortality rate that has long exceeded national numbers. The Centers for Disease Control's target infant mortality rate is six deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2014, Shelby County's rate dropped from around 14.9 to 9.2 deaths per 1,000 live births — the lowest in the last 100 years.

Though Tennessee has laws in place to support and protect breastfeeding mothers, the Coalition goes to bat when those laws are violated, Stiles said. They once had a case where a mother was told she couldn't nurse at a daycare. Another mom was told she couldn't breastfeed at a downtown courthouse. There's also a lack of opportunity at the workplace — though Tennessee laws require flexible time for mothers to pump in a private space.

Aside from Papua New Guinea, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn't require employers to offer paid maternity leave. Staggering, more so, when considering that mothers supply the primary income for 40 percent of U.S. families with children 18-years-old or younger, the Pew Research Center found.

"Many moms return to work in as little as two weeks," Stiles said. "It's hard to see returning to work and pumping. How is a mom who works in the hub, a warehouse, the tarmac, or at McDonald's going to imagine pumping? [Memphis] needs to be sure all city facilities have lactation access, not just City Hall. ... One big area of opportunity is in a more supportive maternity leave policy."

Meanwhile, the breastfeeding coalition and other advocates are doing all they can to make breastfeeding in public more commonplace. Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women is sponsoring what may turn out to be the largest breastfeeding event in the city this year. On August 6th at Trinity Baptist Church, breastfeeding moms from across the Mid-South will come together for Latch On Memphis, an attempt to break the record for the most mothers simultaneously nursing.

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