VCU project to encourage breastfeeding among low-income mothers in Richmond

A new project at Virginia Commonwealth University will encourage, inform and empower economically disadvantaged Richmond-area mothers to breastfeed.

The project, "A CBPR Evaluation of the ‘Mommies, Babies, Bellies & Daddies – The ABCs of Breastfeeding,'" is a targeted intervention to increase breastfeeding initiation and duration.

"Breastfeeding provides substantial health benefits for children and mothers and the American Academy Pediatrics strongly recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months followed by continued breastfeeding for the first year of life," said project leader Susan Bodnar-Deren, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

The health benefits of breastfeeding, she said, include reduced rates of infection, obesity and post-neonatal mortality among children, as well as a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer among mothers.

The project is funded by a nearly $20,000 Community Engagement Grant, which is awarded to VCU academics and academic support units in partnership with Richmond-area organizations to advance community-engaged scholarship that creatively addresses community-identified needs.

The project is a collaboration between Bodnar-Deren and RaShel Charles, director of research development at VCU's Institute for Women's Health, along with Richmond community organizations Health Hearts Plus II (HHP-II) and Kinfolks Community.

The goal of "The ABCs of Breastfeeding" is to evaluate and disseminate the outcomes of a community-based breastfeeding intervention that was developed by HHP-II and that seeks to reduce racial and socio-economic disparities in breastfeeding and related health outcomes.

"This proposal is in response to the community-identified need and invitation to VCU to assist them in conducting a fully collaborative, community-driven research evaluation that includes data collection, analysis and dissemination of the efficacy of the intervention, using [community-based participatory research] methods," Bodnar-Deren said.

Most new mothers in Virginia initiate breastfeeding, but only 39.5 percent exclusively breastfeed after three months and only 15 percent exclusively breastfeed after six months, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Each additional week of breastfeeding confers benefits, Bodnar-Deren said.

While breastfeeding rates have increased nationally, significant socio-economic disparities exist. In the Richmond area, only 4.3 percent of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children recipients breastfeed their babies.

Racial and ethnic disparities in breastfeeding also exist, Bodnar-Deren said, with African-American women having lower rates as compared with white women. As a result, she said, the CDC has found that African-American mothers and babies may benefit from targeted support to start and continue breastfeeding.

As part of "The ABCs of Breastfeeding," the project will seek to empower and educate economically disadvantaged pregnant women about the benefits of breastfeeding and will engage new and experienced mothers in a peer-to-peer support model called "Sister Circles."

The program uses a holistic life-skills approach, and works with young women by providing hands-on training to ensure that they become successful breastfeeding mothers, Bodnar-Deren said.

"The program, informs, encourages and empowers new or expecting mothers to A, appreciate themselves; B, bond with their baby; and C, become a better caretaker of self and baby," she said. "In addition, it promotes wellness through providing education and modeling on healthy lifestyle practices and healthy eating choices, thereby giving babies and mothers a healthier start to parenting. The program not only works with mothers; it embraces the entire community, from friends, fathers to grandparents."

A team of community members and VCU students will collect and help analyze the project's data, overseen by the project's leaders.


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