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Pioneering Mayor Starts Breastfeeding Commission

July 19, 2011

If only newborns could vote, they'd surely cast their teeny little ballots for Richmond, Virginia's Mayor Dwight Jones. That's because this long-time activist in the black community has come up with an innovative strategy for improving the health and well-being of his constituency: increasing the breast­feeding rates in his town.

To this end, he has enacted a Breast­feeding Commission. It's the kind of thing you could imagine people joking about, but they better not: it's a 21st-century idea that deserves to be adopted in every city and town.

When he announced the commission, Jones had some sobering statistics at hand: Disadvantaged babies, which are dispro­portion­ately also black babies, have a 50 percent higher chance of dying of SIDS and suffer from many other health problems as well. Though there are many reasons these things might be true, he is convinced that breast­feeding would solve at least some of the problem.

His goal is to get a 25 percent breast­feeding rate in Richmond in the next six months, and eventually work up to 75 percent. The panel is made up of doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, and community leaders, and will make recommendations at the end of 2011, at which point they'll be disbanded (and, presumably, a more official office will be set up).

This is so awesome on so many levels. A political leader understands, on such a deep level, that breast­feeding amounts to preventive medicine. While many formula-fed children are just fine, an increase in breastfed babies will lead to better health overall.

It's also going to lead to a lot of other improvements. For one thing, a lot of poor women, regardless of race, can't breast­feed because they have to go back to work sooner, often at places that don't provide pumping rooms or nursing breaks. The presence of a breast­feeding commission would, hopefully, give women strategies and support if they have to fight their employers for work situations that support their breast­feeding (and the rest of their parenting as well - because it all goes together).

To drive the point home, Mayor Jones also threw around the kind of statistics that employers need to hear - that breast­feeding moms supposedly take fewer sick days to care for sick kids. I don't know if that's true, but I do know, having worked for a crappy, un-child-friendly corporation, that sometimes that's the only language those mean bosses speak, so more power to him.

Posted by Amy Keyishian at The Stir

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