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Texas aims to improve health of woman, babies

AUSTIN, Texas - Texas is working toward better health for mothers and babies by addressing disparities, highlighting Texas WIC's breastfeeding support program, and providing information and breastfeeding help to families at events throughout the state this month.

August kicks off National Breastfeeding Month, and Texas WIC is adopting the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action's theme, "Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding!" to celebrate the meaningful contributions that mothers and fathers make to infant health. Texas WIC is administered by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

"Team HHS is committed to meeting women where they are through the expansion of resources, outreach and support to address disparities and ensure all Texas women have the opportunity to meet their breastfeeding goals," said Dr. Courtney N. Phillips, HHS Executive Commissioner. "Too many Texas women are unable to meet their personal breastfeeding goals, and we know that black women experience this gap at higher rates than the rest of the population. I encourage all Texans to join us in this effort as we work toward better outcomes for mothers and their babies."

Breastfeeding rates are tied to improved health outcomes for moms and babies, though data from Texas WIC as of July 2017 shows disproportionately lower rates of breastfeeding among black infants. At that time, of all infants in WIC, 85.3 percent were ever breastfed, compared to 78.6 percent of black infants. Using this data, Texas WIC prioritizes breastfeeding support for black women through a comprehensive array of lactation support programs and initiatives including adoption of evidence-based practices, training and professional education, promotion and awareness activities, community partner engagement, and quality improvement initiatives.

"WIC clinics across the state of Texas will celebrate National Breastfeeding Month in August with local events that are open to the entire community. They include many activities to empower families and communities to protect, promote and support breastfeeding," said Edgar Curtis, Texas WIC Director.

Successful breastfeeding takes teamwork to support new moms, and Texas WIC shares information online through its Breastmilk Counts website, support groups, classes and personalized counseling available through local community partnerships that operate WIC clinics across the state. To find a WIC office near you, visit the "Find WIC" page.

WIC also educates moms on Texas law, which allows women to breastfeed anywhere in public. In 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 541, authored by state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, which allows women in Texas to pump breastmilk anywhere in public.

"Breastfeeding should be a choice for all parents, no matter their schedule," Gonzalez said. "Fewer than 50 percent of children are breastfed exclusively past 3 months of age. By creating flexibility, new parents are empowered to make the best decisions for them and their children, and I am honored to have supported this mission through the passage of legislation allowing parents to express breastmilk everywhere it is legal to breastfeed in Texas. Texas WIC's work in conjunction with the passage of this bill is giving new parents the flexibility and support to make smart, healthy decisions for their children."

"As breastfeeding advocates we have the privilege of nurturing a family during an exceptionally vulnerable time in their lives. This encouragement in turn helps a mother trust that her body can and will nourish her infant while simultaneously providing supreme health benefits for them both," said Christine Wiseman, RN, IBCLC, manager of the City of Dallas Lactation Care Center. "Together, we must establish supportive environments for breastfeeding and help our families seek resources as they navigate the joy and challenges of their breastfeeding journey."

Families do not have to qualify for WIC to obtain free breastfeeding services at Texas WIC Lactation Support Centers and the Lactation Support Hotline.

Certified lactation consultants and peer counselors are available at the Texas Lactation Support Hotline, 855-550-6667, to answer questions about breastfeeding. The 24/7 hotline receives approximately 150 calls per week.

Lactation Support Centers are located in Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and McAllen. Staffed by certified lactation consultants and peer counselors, the centers act as a community training site for WIC staff, dietetic interns and health care professionals, ensuring that local doctors, nurses and hospital staff are trained in breastfeeding best practices. The centers have helped an estimated 20,000 families with breastfeeding since 2018. The newest center in San Antonio recently opened this spring.

Texas WIC staff are trained to provide breastfeeding assistance and help families meet their breastfeeding goals. All major health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, endorse breastfeeding as the ideal choice for babies and recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for one year or beyond. Breastfeeding is important for the health of mothers and babies and enhances the wellbeing of families. Hear more about breastfeeding support from WIC clients like Jazmin and peer counselors like Vanessa as they tell their stories on video.

Despite the recommendation to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, fewer than 50 percent of infants were exclusively breastfed through three months of age in Texas. Awareness and support by parents and the community are critical first steps in enabling mothers' efforts to breastfeed. For mothers who cannot breastfeed because of other circumstances, Texas WIC can help provide tools to assist families on their path to a healthy lifestyle.

About WIC 
WIC, or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that is available to qualified pregnant women, new moms, and children younger than 5. Administered in Texas by HHSC, the program provides nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion and support, referrals and nutritious foods. Texas WIC helps 707,000 clients on average each month with infant, child and prenatal nutrition and breastfeeding support. 

The information in this article is from a press release sent by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.  


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