Southampton Town is hoping to become the first designated breastfeeding-friendly municipal workplace on Long Island.
And it’s already halfway there. A lactation room at Southampton Town Hall opened two years ago, but the Northwell Health designation requires the town to develop a policy with flexible break times, education about breastfeeding rights, and support for mothers who return to work and continue breastfeeding. Under state law, workplaces are required to offer unpaid breaks for the first three years of a child’s life and make efforts to offer space to express milk privately.
Northwell Health was one of six organizations in 2016 to receive funding from the New York State Department of Health to establish breastfeeding-friendly community support initiatives. The organization, which calls its group working on the grant the Breastfeeding Resiliency, Engagement and Empowerment team, has previously offered the workplace designation to childcare facilities like Stony Brook Medicine and Southampton Pediatric Associates, and is working on the project not only to help women provide for their babies but to spread awareness of the nutritional benefits of breastfeeding.
“The breastfed babies stop when they’ve had enough, where formula-fed infants are fed until the bottle is empty, and may be overfed,” said Anastasia Schepers, a nutritionist, registered dietician, and program co-coordinator. “Obesity occurs in the early years of life, and those bottle-fed are more likely to become obese as teenagers. Early intervention is very important.”
Breastfeeding helps prevent diabetes and obesity, and reduces the number of illnesses including respiratory and ear infections, the flu, colds, and diarrhea, said Maggie Sherin, a Northwell Health research coordinator and member of the BFREE team.
“The antibodies are one thing that the formula companies cannot replicate,” Schepers said. “They’re only present in breast milk, and they strengthen the immune system.”
But once a child reaches six months old, breastfeeding is on the decline nationwide, according to a study done by Healthy People 2020. In 2013, only about 60 percent of the 82 percent of women who left the hospital exclusively breastfeeding were still doing so by the time their children were six months old.
Yingna Wang, also an associate research coordinator, said the designation also benefits employers, pointing to moms taking less time off work for doctor’s appointments because their children are healthier. There’s also higher retention rates and lower health insurance costs. Schepers said the skin-to-skin contact is critical early on, and added new research shows it can reduce the risk for some cancers, such as ovarian and breast, in the mothers who breastfeed. Sherin said the practice also reduces stress levels and the likelihood of post-partum depression.
“It’s good for mother and baby, which is why we’re pushing six months exclusively,” Wang said. “More and more women are going back to work earlier. We should be supporting them.”
Sandra Cirincione, director of human resources with the town, said Southampton is hoping to help reverse the trend while educating others on the benefits of breastfeeding.
“Some of these benefits are lost if a baby has just one bottle of formula,” Sherin said. “So, we’re really trying to help put systems in place to get us to exclusivity, but any breast milk is better than none.”
“How could you say anything else but positive things about this?” Councilman John Bouvier said.
Cirincione will be presenting a resolution at the next town board meeting, July 23, at 6 PM. Southampton was one of four Long Island communities — the others being Glen Cove, Wyandanch, and West Islip — identified by the state Department of Health as areas of need based on low breastfeeding and high obesity rates, according to the BFREE team. As part of the designation, the town will receive a hospital-grade Medela pump and accessory kits, along with lists of locations for lactation and insurance support and counseling.