Catholic Charities launches breastfeeding curriculum

New program looking to increase awareness; health department and UT are partners                

By Monique Derico

Just in time for World Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 1-7), Catholic Charities of East Tennessee’s Pregnancy Help Center launched a new breastfeeding curriculum designed to promote breastfeeding to culturally diverse populations.

The curriculum was made in partnership with the Knox County Health Department and the University of Tennessee Department of Nutrition.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 84.1 percent of infants are ever breastfed, and Tennessee falls below the national average for breastfeeding initiation (75.8 percent). Also, percentages of breastfeeding initiation among women of color can be even significantly lower.

The new breastfeeding curriculum consists of eight short video lessons, which all feature staff from Catholic Charities and the Knox County Health Department, as well as volunteers and Catholic Charities clients. While the curriculum was produced at the Knoxville Pregnancy Help Center, Catholic Charities clients also will use the curriculum throughout the region at the four other pregnancy help centers in Chattanooga, Johnson City, LaFollette, and Newcomb/Jellico.

Ernestine (Ernie) Meiners, the Knoxville Pregnancy Help Center program coordinator and a member of All Saints Church, organized the curriculum launch with the health department.

“This project has been in the works for almost three years now, and it’s so exciting to finally see it rolled out,” Ms. Meiners said.

“We certainly promote breastfeeding to our clients for the many benefits it has for both the mother and infant. But there can be many barriers to breastfeeding for people of color or moms living below the poverty line,” she continued.

The new courses intentionally feature Catholic Charities clients from diverse backgrounds, including Hispanic, Asian-Pacific, Black, White, Middle Eastern, and Nigerian families.

“Representation truly matters, and we want our clients to feel empowered and know that breastfeeding is accessible to them as they prepare for their newborn,” Ms. Meiners said.

In numerous studies, breastfeeding has been shown to have benefits that include a reduced risk of several diseases for the mother and infant, as well as reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  It also can stabilize high blood pressure. Catholic Charities’ new breastfeeding curriculum goes into detail about those benefits and also discusses topics ranging from breastfeeding basics and building a support system to educating employers about breastfeeding rights and weaning infants.

As with its nearly 250 other courses, Catholic Charities’ Pregnancy Help Centers offer clients the opportunity to earn “baby bucks” after completing the breastfeeding curriculum. The clients can exchange the baby bucks in the baby store for supplies, including breastfeeding aids and other necessities. Clients also have the opportunity to speak with a lactation consultant and sign up to use the private lactation room at the Knoxville Pregnancy Help Center.

“This breastfeeding curriculum is yet another great addition to our strong parenting education program throughout our pregnancy help centers,” said Sandi Davidson, Catholic Charities’ pregnancy services program leader.

Since all courses are offered both in-person and virtually, pregnancy help center clients always have access to educational material, even in the remotest areas of East Tennessee.

To commemorate the launch of this special curriculum, the Knoxville Pregnancy Help Center hosted a private video premiere where clients featured walked the red carpet, received professional photos, and were recognized for their contributions by the Knox County Health Department and Pregnancy Help Center.

The success of this curriculum launch is attributed in large part to the Knox County Health Department and their contributions, according to Catholic Charities.

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