For developing a ground-breaking policy that allowed a newborn baby to have her mother’s milk even though mom was serving a jail sentence, the Sutter County Health and Human Services Department Public Health Division has received recognition from the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).
Breastmilk contains antibodies that help a baby fight off viruses and bacteria. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funds the WIC programs that provide healthy food, education, and assistance to new mothers through local public health departments, breastfeeding lowers a baby’s risk of certain infections and diseases, including ear infections, asthma, lower respiratory infections, diarrhea and vomiting, childhood obesity, eczema, type 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Research also indicates that moms who breastfeed have lower rates of certain breast and ovarian cancers, as well as Type 2 diabetes.
But when mom is in jail, a baby’s access to mother’s milk can be blocked, unless policies are in place to help the jail accommodate feedings.
There was no such policy in Sutter County three years ago when an incarcerated mother of a newborn baby made a request for assistance. Sutter County’s WIC program worked with the Sutter County Jail, the Sutter County Health Officer, Dr. Lou Ann Cummings, (now retired) and the California Breastfeeding Coalition, said Tina Lavy, Sutter County WIC Lactation Consultant.
The policy, which allows mothers to pump milk and establishes protocols for ensuring the milk is properly stored and handled until it is delivered to the responsible party caring for the infant, is being recognized by NACCHO as a 2019 Model Practice at its national conference in Orlando in July. The practice receiving the award is titled “Supporting Mothers in Jail - No Barriers to Breastfeeding While Incarcerated.” The award was one of five made to public health departments in California; 53 awards were made throughout the nation.
In 2018, then Governor Jerry Brown signed a law requiring all jails to develop policies allowing babies to have access to their incarcerated mother’s breastmilk. According to Lavy, advice and guidance on establishing similar policies is also being requested by jail and public health officials from counties throughout California.