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Lactation Mentorship Program at Valleywise Health: Redefining Breastfeeding Within Diverse Communities

Program to increase access to lactation consultants to underserved populations.

Breastfeeding is a biological right, and all parents should have an opportunity to choose how they feed their babies. But over time, lactation adversity has increased, specifically in more diverse populations. Kim Moore‐Salas, an International Board‐Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who works at Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix, is hoping to shift that trend; she launched a lactation consultant mentorship pilot program at the safety‐net health care system with a focus on promoting diversity within the profession.

In her 10 years of clinical lactation work, and eight years at Valleywise Health, Moore‐Salas has witnessed a disconnect and lack of education on breastfeeding within Native American, African American, and Latinx populations. This is also reflected in the lactation consultancy profession, as a recent study by United States Lactation Consultant Association showed that roughly 80% of LC’s are white with almost no representation from Native American community. Some of this can be attributed to historical factors that caused separation from the practice, but also cites that much of the information, instruction, and statistics are dismissive of the adverse disparate impact on these communities.

“Within my own training and counseling, in recent years, I noticed that lactation publications often lacked diverse families and culture. At Valleywise, I work with diverse families, and those materials didn’t speak to many of them.” says Moore‐Salas. “Their experiences mirror my own as a Navajo Woman, and this fueled my interest to try and solve some of these very fixable issues.”

Launched in December of 2020, the pilot lactation program at Valleywise Health is scheduled to mentor three individuals with two more in postpartum lactation programming. The training program’s goal is to provide sound, safe, directly‐supervised teaching of skilled clinical lactation care to students who seek to advance their careers in birth work and likely assist Valleywise Health patients. She cites that beyond this clinical training, her focus is on providing intuitive and culturally competent training of patient care as it relates to lactation.

“Breastfeeding is a personal decision and requires support and education especially to new parents who may have to return to work immediately or balance any number of other factors which creates a barrier to chestfeeding,” says Moore‐Salas. “But beyond the health benefits to both baby and mother, in these diverse populations, there is also an opportunity to reconnect with some of their cultural roots to foster that irreplaceable bond between the baby, parents, and community.”

As a woman of Native origin herself, growing up on and off the Navajo Nation, Moore‐Salas sees the cultural reconnection as a driving force in the diversification of lactation consultants and impetus behind this program. It is also the reframing breastfeeding to ensure that supporting education materials reflect diverse populations.

“In working at Valleywise Health and serving predominantly underserved patients with diverse backgrounds, it is a perfect training backdrop for this program as our interns will be able to work with families that ‘look like them’ and the value of that to both parties cannot be stressed enough,” says Moore‐Salas. “My fellow staff members in leadership, pediatrics and OB/GYN department have been so supportive of this program and see the benefits and my hope is to expand availability of lactation consultants within Valleywise and beyond.”

Kim also created partnerships with other organizations, the WIC (Women Infant Children’s program) and Arizona Breastfeeding Center to become a part of this program later in the year. This will be an exchange program where interns will learn within the hospital setting, private practice and community clinics to have a wide variety of clinical lactation experience.

For more information on maternity services available at Valleywise Health and participating locations, please visit valleywisehealth.org/services/maternity

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