N.C. A&T, Cone Health Partner to Open New Lactation Clinic in East Greensboro

03/18/2022 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Family and Consumer Sciences

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (March 18, 2022) – Nursing mothers and families seeking advice and support now have a new resource: a new lactation clinic within Cone Health’s MedCenter for Women, a joint venture between North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s lactation certificate program and Cone Health.

The clinic opened March 17 and is staffed primarily by students and graduates from the lactation certificate program, which is a part of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. Their target audience: families of color who want to breastfeed or chestfeed their infants.

 “We want to normalize breastfeeding, which has lower rates among Black women, so that we can help to improve their infants’ health outcomes,” said Walidah Karim-Rhoades, director of the center. “This clinic will have a phenomenal impact because research shows that families are more likely to make the choice to breastfeed or chestfeed if they can see it done.”

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 of Janiya Mitnaul Williams, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and the lactation certificate program’s director. “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.”

The lactation certificate program’s clinic was a natural fit for Cone Health, which also has a strong lactation program and has sought to train and employ more lactation experts of color, Karim-Rhoades said.

“It was a perfect fit to marry the two programs,” she said. ““We want to set an example for how two different entities can work together. We also want to help students become familiar with the health care system.”

Through classroom instruction and more than 300 supervised clinical hours, the program prepares students for the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant exam. Working in the MedCenter clinic will give students the clinical experience they need while also 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.

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 lactation consultant in the Cone Health system who was also a non-registered nurse. “There are historic reasons, such as wet-nursing, and unconscious bias on the part of some health care professionals who assume that Black mothers aren’t interested.”

A&T’s 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.”

Health care providers have already started reaching out and are ready to start sending referrals, 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,” she said. 

Media Contact Information: jmhowse@ncat.edu

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