City Councilmember Robert Cornegy, Jr. on Friday celebrated the opening of his new district office on the fifth floor of 1360 Restoration Plaza, debuting something quite, well, unusual for a first-time city councilmember: a "Community Lactation Station."
The lactation station is a private room reserved for nursing mothers seeking a place to pump milk and/or breastfeed in privacy. It includes a breast pump, comfortable chairs and a refrigerator for storing milk. The station is one of only two in the entire city, according to Cornegy.
Cornegy, a father of six school-aged children, is a staunch supporter of the Pregnant Worker Protection Act. So when community organizers in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville first began discussing the idea of turning one of the neighborhoods in his district into a "Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone," Cornegy supported the effort by showing how it's done.
The Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone, funded in part by the WK Kellogg Foundation, is a community-based initiative, the first citywide effort of its kind, to support moms who are interested in breastfeeding. And it is starting in Bedford Stuyvesant and Brownsville.
Taking a lead in this effort is the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which is working hand-in-hand with local businesses and faith- and community-based organizations to establish spaces where women can breastfeed.
"It's New York State law that women are allowed to breastfeed in public. But we're actually still fighting against the stigma of breastfeeding, especially in communities of color," said Dr. Aletha Maybank, assistant commissioner in the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"We have generations of women who have never seen someone breastfeed. It has become foreign to so many and for a number of reasons-- one being the evolution of formula which has allowed women to be able to go back to work.
"The other piece is that many women in our communities don't feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, because breasts have become sexualized," said Dr. Maybank. "We want to return to a time where breasts can be seen as that part of a woman that provides the most perfect and natural source of vitamins and nutrients for growing babies."
The program's multi-pronged strategy is to provide in-home breastfeeding support, counseling and education to new mothers and fathers, as well as partner with maternity hospitals and birthing centers to run "Mobile Milk," a text messaging campaign.
"We have done this for hundreds of thousands of years. It's only been within the last century that we've moved away from breastfeeding," said Dr. Maybank. "So this effort is about really reclaiming our history."
Beginning Wednesday, March 19, Cornegy's office will host a series of "Know Your Rights" workshops to educate employers, employees and community residents about breastfeeding.
Workshops for employers will be held on Wednesday, March 19th and Wednesday, April 9th from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Workshops for employees and community residents will be held on Wednesday, March 26 and Wednesday, April 23 from noon to 2:00 p.m.
"We have to create spaces where this is seen as normal and acceptable for mothers to breastfeed in any place," said Dr. Maybank.
"That's why it's so important that Robert has taken the lead in this effort. Because fathers are equally as important to this conversation in supporting mothers."