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Breastfeeding Peer-Counseling Program Expanding to Cover All of Hartford


A peer-counseling program begun in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1993, called Breastfeeding: Heritage and Pride, has become an evidence-based model for guiding and supporting low-income African-American and Hispanic mothers as they breastfeed their babies.

Research has shown that breastfeeding is the most beneficial form of nutrition for infants, as breast milk is easy to digest and contains antibodies that can protect against infections. Moreover, the research has shown that breastfeeding may reduce a child’s risk for developing obesity.

The traditional practice of breastfeeding fell out of favor in Western cultures beginning in the 19th century. By the time the La Leche League founders held their first meeting in 1956, only about 20 percent of American mothers breastfed their babies.

However, a revival of breastfeeding began in the 1970s, and peer support and counseling programs have helped increase the breastfeeding rate. But lower breastfeeding rates have persisted among some populations of mothers including African-Americans and some Hispanics.

The Hartford program recruits, trains and hires women from low-income neighborhoods who have breastfed their own infants for at least six months. Their training prepares these women as breastfeeding peer counselors who begin working with expectant mothers, visit them in the hospital and continue helping them at home as they breastfeed their babies. Two studies of the Hartford program published in 2004 showed that this type of peer counseling for breastfeeding works.

The Institute of Medicine’s 2012 report, “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation,” and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize Breastfeeding: Heritage and Pride as an example for establishing an effective peer-support program.  The CDC promotes breastfeeding as one of the steps the nation can take to address childhood obesity.

The Hartford program began as a collaboration of the Hispanic Health Council and Hartford Hospital. It was replicated at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut, in 2009.

Now, with a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the partnership with the Hispanic Health Council is about to be expanded to St. Francis Hospital and Health Center in Hartford. This expansion will allow establishment of a city-wide system of breastfeeding peer support in Hartford, said Leticia Marulanda, director of programs for the Hispanic Health Council.

Dr. Walter Trymbulak, director of the Center for Women’s Health at St. Francis, emphasized the health benefits of breastfeeding, in a press statement on the program expansion.

“Breast milk is the perfect food for babies,” he said. “Low-income women in Hartford have the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the state. This grant will help us change the culture of formula-feeding the babies of the women who use our Center.”