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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Nursing Students Assist with EVMS Breastfeeding Program

A group of Old Dominion University nursing students has worked for more than a year in conjunction with Eastern Virginia Medical School's "Breastfeeding Welcome Here" project, which encourages businesses to support the practice at their establishments.

"Breastfeeding Welcome Here" was created in 2012 as a collaborative project of the EVMS-led Consortium for Infant and Child Health (CINCH), Healthy Norfolk and Healthy Portsmouth. It is funded by a grant from the Virginia Department of Health.

Through a collaboration between EVMS and Old Dominion, ODU College of Health Sciences nursing students Deborah Vance, Chad Del Rosario, Tera Stanistreet, Laura Cagle, Anna Maksimovich, Taj Johnson, Ebony Lindsay, Zack Hedrick and Amanda Frederick have worked on the project since last September as part of their community-health nursing rotation. They contacted potential participants, recruited 30 sites and helped evaluate program outcomes.

Rene Repofa, manager of Pasha Mezze in Norfolk, said participating in the "Breastfeeding Welcome Here" program was a natural fit for her restaurant. "We promote healthy eating here for adults," she said, "so of course we would want to promote the same for infants. Maybe if more infants were breastfed, we wouldn't have to do so much educating when they get to be adults."

As of late March, 53 area businesses, many of them restaurants, had signed up to display "Breastfeeding Welcome Here" posters, said Amy Paulson, CINCH director and an EVMS instructor of pediatrics. The program is needed, Paulson said, because according to national data, while 75 percent of mothers start out breastfeeding, only 13 percent of them breastfeed exclusively, and for African American mothers, that falls to 8 percent.

"If 90 percent of U.S. families followed guidelines to breastfeed exclusively for six months," she explained, "the nation would save $13 billion annually from reduced medical and other costs." Families who follow optimal breastfeeding practices can save between $1,200 and $1,500 on infant formula in the first year alone, Paulson added.

The U.S. Surgeon General's call to support breastfeeding reports these health benefits:

  • It protects babies from infections and illnesses that include diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia;
  • Breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma or become obese;
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS);
  • Mothers who breastfeed have a decreased risk of diabetes and breast and ovarian cancers.

Brannon Godfrey, Portsmouth deputy city manager and co-leader of Healthy Portsmouth, said city leaders encourage businesses to welcome breastfeeding because the city is committed to improving the health of women and children. "Our community's ongoing support to increase breastfeeding acceptance is key to decreasing the barriers to breastfeeding and improving our rates of obesity, diabetes and cancer," he said.

Repofa, of Pasha Mezze, a mother of two children whom she breastfed, would like to see more Hampton Roads businesses welcome breastfeeding. "Society seems to have taken a turn on this issue, but we've never had any customers complain about nursing mothers here," she said.

Melanie Hayes, co-owner of The Cutting Edge in Chesapeake, also has had no customer complaints about her restaurant's participation. "I nursed my daughter for 18 months, so I know how important it is," she explained. "I felt I should be able to nurse her wherever I needed to."

When a few lactation consultants who are regular customers of The Cutting Edge saw the "Breastfeeding Welcome Here" poster, Hayes recalls, "They told me they were happy to see we're participating."