Lactation Certificate Program Receives $450,000 Grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield NC

02/22/2022 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Family and Consumer Sciences

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Feb. 22, 2022) - Support for infant health among people of color is about to take a leap forward in the Triad area, thanks to a $450,000 grant to the Foundation for North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

The award, which will benefit the Pathway 2 Lactation Program in N.C. A&T’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, will be used to open a clinic to benefit primarily nursing families of color.

The human lactation program has seen remarkable success in addressing racial disparities in infant health related to nursing since it was launched in 2020 under the leadership of Janiya Mitnaul Williams, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and the program’s director.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC funding for the human lactation program will be used to establish a new free-standing, community-based outpatient lactation clinic as well as funding scholarships and other support for students enrolled in the graduate certificate program, which is housed in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Through classroom instruction and more than 300 supervised clinical hours, the program prepares students for the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant exam. The future clinic will give students the clinical experience they also need, while benefitting area families.

“By having the clinic attached to the educational program, we can attract individuals who would like to join the profession as well as assist families in the community who need additional lactation support,” said Williams, who has worked in the field both in clinical practice at Cone Health’s Alamance Regional Medical Center and now in academia.

Research has long established that human milk is the healthiest first food for babies. However, lack of culturally appropriate counseling can be a barrier preventing Black and Brown families from widely adopting the practice.

“For the past 50 years, African Americans have had lower rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration than other races. At the same time, Black babies have higher infant mortality, and Black children have higher risks for obesity, SIDS and female cancers that breast milk can protect from, than other races,” said Williams. “We need to challenge our cultural assumptions and break down the barriers to breastfeeding so that we can change those outcomes. A good way to start to do that is by training more lactation consultants that look like their families they serve.”

One of only two lactation programs housed at historically Black colleges and universities in the U.S., A&T’s curriculum trains students to work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, for public health organizations, in their own private practices and in the community in ways that support and encourage breastfeeding and chestfeeding, particularly in marginalized communities.

“Breastfeeding is a complicated subject culturally for African American families and families with marginalized voices,” says Williams, an Aggie alumna who was the first Black, and first non-registered nurse, lactation consultant in the Cone Health system. “There are historic reasons, such as wet-nursing; unconscious bias on the part of health care professionals, stereotyping – some health care providers assume that Black mothers aren’t interested. Some Black mothers aren’t comfortable with the subject, or say, ‘Oh, that’s nasty.’ But when you ask them, ‘Why is it nasty? They can’t really point to a reason.”

The program took a major step toward that goal last spring, when the 11 students of its first class graduated, prepared to sit for the accreditation exam to become international board-certified lactation consultants.

“We’re already making a difference,” said Williams. “This program is one of only nine similar programs in the world and one of the few that requires an undergraduate degree first. The program is taught face-to-face and emphasizes communication and cultural diversity in each course. Working in health care, I found that was the piece that was missing.”

Dean Mohamed Ahmedna, Ph.D. and Valerie Giddings, Ph.D., chair of the department, are pleased by the positive feedback and support the program has received from healthcare partners and the community. The program has been permanently added to the university’s course offerings.  

“Ultimately, I expect this program to be a model for other HBCUs so that we can truly expand the program and its benefits to a national level,” Giddings said.

“The College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences thanks Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C.  for their generous investment in the health of mothers and infants of color,” Ahmedna said. “By providing funds for student scholarships as well as for their clinical experience, BCBSNC has taken a major step to helping us diversify the profession."

Health care providers have already started reaching out and are ready to start sending referrals as soon as the clinic opens, Williams said.

“Black birth workers in the Triad been talking about the need for this clinic for years, and now it’s finally coming to fruition through the program at A&T,” she said.


Media Contact Information: jmhowse@ncat.edu

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