World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated August 1-7 annually to protect, promote and support breastfeeding around the world. Breastfeeding is recognized as one of the most effective methods of preventing illness and protecting the health of infants and mothers. It provides babies with a healthy start in life by protecting them against Type 1 and 2 diabetes, asthma, allergies, and more. Breastfed babies are less likely to be obese or overweight as children; studies suggest that this protection lasts into adolescence and adulthood.
Despite all of these benefits, Chicago women breastfeed at rates below state and national averages. A woman’s decision to breastfeed is influenced by many factors, such as the information she receives about breastfeeding before and during her pregnancy, the support she has from family members, the amount of help she receives with breastfeeding in the hospital, or her need to return to work or school after the baby is born.
Healthy Places is a federally-funded obesity prevention project working to create an environment in hospitals, workplaces, businesses, and communities across the city that is more supportive of breastfeeding. It is a joint project of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and its bona fide agent the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC). Healthy Places is also an initiative of the City’s public health agenda, Healthy Chicago, which details these issues as priorities. Its breastfeeding work is supported by Health Connect One and the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
For the last year, Healthy Places has partnered with community organizations that are in turn working with local businesses to foster a more breastfeeding-friendly environment and help change the culture in Chicago. Access Community Health Network, Southwest Organizing Project, and Heartland Human Care Services received funding from Healthy Places to focus on Rogers Park, Chicago Lawn, and West Englewood respectively. These organizations are training lactation consultants, handing out publicity decals to ‘breastfeeding-friendly’ store owners, and providing public education to residents across these neighborhoods. This work is a perfect example of the public-private collaboration needed to turn the tide around breastfeeding and obesity.
Healthy Places is also working with all Chicago-area maternity hospitals to become officially “Baby-Friendly,” an international designation signifying that a hospital fosters maternity practices that promote and support breastfeeding. There is overwhelming evidence to support the benefits of “Baby-Friendly Hospital” designation in helping mothers and babies get off to the right start with breastfeeding. Through Healthy Places, currently two-thirds (13 out of 19) of Chicago’s maternity hospitals, have entered the pathway towards achieving the designation, including Prentice Women’s Hospital which delivers the most Chicago babies each year.
All of these combined efforts are helping to make breastfeeding an easier option for Chicago women. We must continue asking our local hospitals, businesses, and institutions to become healthier places. For more information or to learn how to get involved, visit www.healthyplaceschicago.org.
Bechara Choucair, MD is the Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Adam Becker, PhD, MPH is the Executive Director of the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) and the Project Director of Healthy Places.