By: Vanessa Penberg
August celebrated National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and there were numerous events throughout Brooklyn which promoted breastfeeding awareness, assistance, and advocacy, including ones sponsored by local politicians, community-based organizations, WIC offices, and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene with the Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone. It was wonderful to see such a varied and dedicated community come out in support of fundamental family rights and health equity.
The month kicked off with the NYC Leadership Breastfeeding Council’s Subway Caravan, which began with a press conference at City Hall, followed by the Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center WIC’s Eighth Annual Breastfeeding Walk. Both events culminated at Restoration Plaza, where The Brooklyn Alliance for Breastfeeding Empowerment sponsored their Annual World Breastfeeding Week Fair which offered an afternoon of speakers and celebration.
The following day Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams organized Brooklyn’s Global Big Latch-On, and later in the month Council Member Robert Cornegy hosted the Third Annual First Food Festival.
“When you think about it in terms of your kids and family, it’s more about being better for them and the weight loss is secondary.”
On August 11, 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Council Member Cornegy’s Lactation Bill, requiring that public offices of family services-oriented city agencies provide a lactation room for breastfeeding mothers which includes a chair for nursing, access to clean water, and electrical outlets for breast pumps. (To learn more about this breastfeeding champion, please read this recent article about Council Member Cornegy in the Brooklyn Reader. At the end of the month, Ancient Doula Song held a celebration of Black Breastfeeding Week and a family fun day in Fulton Park, which included a communal latch on, music, fun activities, and free diaper giveaway.
One of the best things about these events is providing breastfeeding women with a space to share their experiences, challenges, and strategies where they can get support and guidance from one another. Mothers are concerned about the nutrition, health and wellbeing of themselves and their children and families.
One question that comes up often from new mothers is how to safely lose weight after they have given birth, and nursing mothers, in particular, have to be mindful of doing it in such a way that it does not impact their breastmilk supply. Alice Callahan, a research scientist with a PhD in Nutritional Biology and author of the book The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year, recently wrote a blog post for the New York Times entitled Can You Safely Lose Weight While Breast-Feeding? Some of the strategies that she recommends in her post are:
• Ensure that your baby is consistently able to latch and breastfeed before beginning any weight loss plan. Dr. Cheryl Lovelady, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro who studies postpartum weight loss, believes that the best strategy for postpartum weight loss is to reduce the amount of calories one consumes as well as beginning an exercise routine, since the combination helps women lose fat and not muscle. She recommends that women always check with their doctors before starting a new diet or exercise plan.
• Postpartum women should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate–intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking or easy cycling) per week according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. There are many benefits to exercise, including improving one’s mood, concentration, and reducing stress. simone_zumba-2
Excellence Baby Academy’s own program parent, Simone Colbert, who is the instructor of two of the fitness classes mentioned below and the mother of two beautiful boys, offers these words of advice for those trying to incorporate exercise into their lives:
“In my experience, exercise is the best and only thing that really works when I get overwhelmed as it helps me clear my head and de-stress.
“As moms, especially new ones, we feel like there is no time to exercise or do things for ourselves, but we must realize that our kids will never behave perfectly, we will never magically have hours of free time, and we really have to make that time for ourselves. I have found that it works best if I incorporate exercise into my daily routine, such as jogging with my baby while my older son rides his scooter to school or riding a Citi bike to work.
“Even those shorter workouts help improve my mood and my day. I’m much less snappy and frustrated and am more patient with my family. When you think about it in terms of your kids and family, it’s more about being better for them and the weight loss is secondary.”
• Research conducted by Dr. Lovelady and others shows that it is safe to lose one to two pounds a week. More rapid weight loss could cause a decrease in milk supply and an increase in fatigue. After beginning a new weight loss plan, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents monitor their baby’s diapers and look for any changes in their weight or feeding patterns to ensure that the baby is still getting enough milk.
• Breastfeeding women who are trying to lose one pound per week should decrease their calorie intake by about 500 calories per day, with a total intake of at least 1,800 calories, according to Dr. Lovelady. Ms. Callahan suggests using the US Department of Agriculture’s SuperTracker website to help generate an individualized diet plan that accounts for calories needed for breastfeeding and which can be adjusted depending on the woman’s results.
• Dr. Lovelady advises nursing mothers not to go on very low-carbohydrate diets since carbohydrates are necessary to produce lactose, which is the sugar in breastmilk. Any other diet plan can be effective, so she recommends focusing on foods that are satisfying and enjoyable to eat. It is also helpful to have foods on hand that are easy to eat and readily available, such as sliced fruits and vegetables or nuts. Simone agrees that the combination of eating well and exercise is the most effective way to start feeling better. She says, “I find that eating well is a big part of it too. Many of us are emotional eaters, and cake can feel like love. I’ve been working on breaking up with that feeling and trying to be a more mindful eater. I check in every day. Am I eating enough fruits and vegetables and things that are alive so that I can feel alive and well?”
• Breastfeeding women should be especially cautious using weight-loss supplements as they are not well regulated and may include ingredients that can impact breastmilk production and be harmful to the babies’ health.
For residents of Central Brooklyn, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation offers several resources for nursing women, including a Community Lactation Station (CLS) installed by Council Member Robert Cornegy at his office at 1368 Fulton Street, 5th Floor, where women have a private, clean, comfortable space in which to breastfeed or pump milk. The CLS is open to walk-ins Mondays through Fridays from 9 AM to 6 PM. Certified Lactation Counselors are available to offer assistance and advice and to connect mothers to resources around maternal and infant health and wellbeing. For more information, call (718) 919-0740, select #2.
Restoration also increases access to healthy food by offering the Marcy Plaza Farmers’ Market, which takes place every Wednesday from 10 AM to 5 PM from July through October. Visitors can enjoy healthy, affordable produce and family programming from cooking demonstrations and exercise classes to music performances and book readings by celebrated authors. Cash, Debit, EBT cards, and Health Bucks are accepted at the farmers’ market and anyone spending $5 using their EBT card will receive an additional $2 Health Buck from the vendors. There are many other farmers’ markets located throughout Brooklyn which offer different varieties of produce and activities. These markets can be found at https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/cdp/farmers-market-map.pdf .
Additionally, there are many free fitness opportunities in Central Brooklyn which fall within the recommended activity level for breastfeeding women looking to lose weight. It is advisable to let the exercise instructors know before class if you have recently given birth or have not worked out in while so they can suggest adjustments if needed. Some of our favorites are:
- Dance Fitness Class at SCO Morris Koppelman Early Childhood Center located at 774 Saratoga Avenue on Tuesdays from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM. Simone Colbert teaches this class which explores different styles of Afro-Caribbean movement and is done to the sweet sounds of Soca music, generating the warm and wonderful energy of Carnival. For more information, contact Caribbean Women’s Health Association at (718) 826-2942, ext. 206, or [email protected].
- Shape Up NYC Zumba at Cumberland Diagnostic and Treatment Center located at 100 North Portland Avenue, 4th Floor Auditorium, on Mondays from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM. In this class, also taught by Simone Colbert, routines are done to Latin, International, and popular music and feature aerobic, fitness interval training with a combination of fast and slow rhythms that tone and sculpt the body with easy to follow dance steps.
- Shape Up NYC Yoga at St. John’s Recreation Center located at 1251 Prospect Place, on Sundays from 12 PM to 1 PM. Feel yourself get leaner and stronger while increasing awareness. Yoga consists of a series of poses that strengthens your core and increases flexibility. Please call (718) 771-2787 for more information.