Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department receives national award for breastfeeding support

Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department peer counselors Cary Allen, second from left, and Elena Johnson, second from right, accept the Gold Premiere Loving Support Award of Excellence for breastfeeding support of WIC families. Allen and Johnson were presented with the award by Gabrielle Risley, far left, Kansas WIC breastfeeding coordinator, and Kara Watts, far right, Kansas WIC Peer Counselor Program coordinator.

Staff members at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department learned Friday they were one of only 16 agencies across the U.S. to receive the Gold Premiere Award of Excellence for breastfeeding support of WIC families.

The award was given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Kansas WIC program as part of National Breastfeeding Month and World Breastfeeding Week.

Four years ago, LDCHD received a gold award, said Cary Allen, who has served as the breastfeeding peer counselor since 2006.

Allen said she was encouraged by the state to reapply and was surprised on Friday to learn they had attained the gold premiere level. There is only one level left to attain above that — the elite level, for which Allen said they would strive next.

To attain the national award, Allen said they had been working hard supporting breastfeeding moms through the WIC program. When mothers with infants check in at the clinic, they are encouraged by the receptionist to nurse their babies, Allen said.

If they need a private room, the staff offers it to them. Clinicians will talk about breastfeeding with mothers and address any challenges. Before leaving the clinic, the receptionist will have a conversation with the mothers on how things are going with breastfeeding. They work at promoting breastfeeding in a nonjudgmental way; plus, counselors are available outside of clinic hours by phone or text, Allen said.

Breastfeeding peer counselors also have done a lot of work in the community to support breastfeeding mothers when they return to work after their baby is born, and they are encouraging businesses and public places to support mothers who might have a hungry baby in a restaurant or at the park.

“By Kansas law, a mother may breastfeed in any place she has a right to be,” Allen said.

Locally, they have been offering “Breastfeeding Welcome Here” stickers, through the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition, to businesses that will take the pledge of support. But there needs to be even more education, Allen said, because there can be awkward looks for a mother simply feeding her child.

Elena Johnson, a newly hired breastfeeding peer counselor at the health department, has experienced both sides of the situation. It was not that long ago she was a new mother who had utilized the support services as a WIC client.

“I was timid,” Johnson said, regarding being a new breastfeeding mother.

But with the local team’s support, she got over those feelings. Now she is helping other mothers experiencing similar bumps to the ones she experienced along the way.

“Winning the Gold Premiere Award of Excellence is huge for Lawrence,” said Kara Watts, Kansas WIC Peer Counselor Program Coordinator with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in Topeka.

Watts arrived from Topeka Friday morning to present the award. She said no other city in Kansas had received the honor this year.

“They have met the best practices for the WIC peer counselor program,” Watts said.

Along with the recognition, they were awarded $500 from the Kansas WIC to assist their program.


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