While no single organization is devoted to promoting breastfeeding in Mississippi, several people have devoted themselves to the cause. Here, some of the small army fighting to make breastfeeding easier, more visible and more widely accepted throughout the state:
Desta Reff, Harvard Law School/Mississippi State University Delta Fellow: Reff came to Mississippi to address the problems of poverty. Initially, she planned to work with children and young adults. But her experiences as a nursing mother in the Delta helped her decide to focus on breastfeeding. "People were like, what is that baby doing?" Reff says. "It's so far removed from the common lexicon."
Elizabeth Gedmark, Head of the Southern Office, A Better Balance: "We make sure everyone knows about their rights under the law," says Gedmark, who is based in Tennessee. Gedmark encourages any mothers in Mississippi think their rights have been violated - or just want practical tips about how to negotiate or talk with their bosses - to call her office.
Toni Hill, Doula, Breastfeeding Educator and Coordinator, Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project: "My grandmother was a wet nurse for a white family," says Hill, who acknowledges the challenging the wisdom of elders. "What they know is not necessarily the best thing for babies now. But it's like, she must know—cause you alive!"
Getty Israel, breastfeeding and public health advocate: "The people who are in the position to address these issues aren't doing it," says Getty Israel, who is based in Jackson. "Why don't we see images of women breastfeeding at least in the Ob/Gyn offices? Where are the billboards? That's where it starts."
Linda McGrath, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, La Leche League Leader: McGrath has worked for La Leche League in Mississippi for more than 35 years, making home visits, conducting monthly meetings, and supporting breastfeeding mothers on the phone and through email. "Mississippi is improving," says McGrath, "but at a slower rate than all of us would like."
Chelesa Presley, Outreach Consultant, Delta Health Partners: At monthly visits, Presley tells her pregnant clients about the benefits of breastfeeding. "I get them on the fence," she says. "But once they get to the hospital, any complication they have, they're not going to breastfeed." Presley regularly gets calls from women in maternity wards. "They say there's a nurse here, she's not encouraging me," Presley says. "I go to the hospital and ask them why do they think it's weird."
Charlene Collier, physician and prenatal Consultant, Mississippi Department of Health: "As a provider, I'm as pro-breastfeeding as you can come," says Collier, an ob/gyn at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. But Collier notes that "the structure of the hospital and the way staffing works" can get in the way of promoting breastfeeding. "Traditionally, obstetricians weren't trained around the skills to be a successful breast-feeder," Collier says.
Christina Chunn, La Leche League leader, Starkville/Columbus: Chunn encounters many moms who think they can't breastfeed because they take prescription medicines. "I have to do some research for them to see if it's contra-indicated," says Chunn, who often refers nursing mothers to LactMed, a database of drug safety during breastfeeding. "A lot of times, it's just getting the right info in their hands."