On May 1, 2012, Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership (NMPP) opened the first community lactation room in New York City that is open to the public. As a maternal/child health life-course organization, NMPP wanted to be a model for the community and the city in promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding. Research shows a majority of women begin breastfeeding their infants right after they are born1. However, exclusive breastfeeding does not continue for the recommend six months2. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Breastfeeding Report Card 2011, only 13.7 percent of New York women exclusively breastfeed at six months. The breastfeeding initiation and continuation rates are even lower for women of color.
There are a myriad of reasons women discontinue breastfeeding or supplement with formula. For some, it is because they must return to work. For others, the logistics of nursing in public places is challenging due to the lack of sensitivity and education among the business community and the community at large. Although we advocate for businesses to support their breastfeeding employees and their patrons, not all have adequate space to accommodate them. In order to remove that barrier, we opened our "Lac Lounge" to promote, support and educate women of childbearing age on the benefits of breastfeeding exclusively. Women who use the lounge have on-hand support from NMPP's Certified Lactation Counselor as well as other community breastfeeding health educators. NMPP offers breastfeeding workshops to expectant and postpartum women using a curriculum developed by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and our maternal/child health partners.
Research shows that breastfed babies are sick less than formula fed babies, which means parents are less likely to be absent from work due to their children being sick or themselves getting sick3. Our "Lac Lounge," located at our main headquarters at 127 West 127th Street, just two blocks from the heart of Harlem, is a private room that is comfortable and spacious, furnished with a hospital grade pump, a milk-only fridge, a rocking chair, changing table and a television to show health education videos. We invite all breastfeeding moms working in the area or on the go to use the community lactation lounge, and we urge employers to let their nursing employees know about this resource.
NMPP continues to advocate and promote breastfeeding to increase the demand for other businesses and organizations to open lactation lounges, so that – in every neighborhood – women can have a safe and comfortable space to breastfeed. Coupled with the work that the New York City Department of Health is doing to decrease the promotion of formula, it is our hope that as we continue to remove the existing barriers to breastfeeding that the numbers of women who extend breastfeeding will increase.
Fajah F. Ferrer is a program manager at Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership, Inc. She has over nine years of experience working with a range of programs and organizations in the non-profit arena serving youth, pregnant and parenting women and families.
3Cohen R, Martek MB & Matek RG. (1995). Comparison of maternal absenteeism and Infant illness rates among breastfeeding and formula-feeding women in two corporations. American Journal of Health Promotion, 10 (2), 148-153